By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Special sessions may be unpopular — legislators understand that well enough to avoid them if at all possible — but two lawsuits over drawing legislative districts may precipitate one soon.
Gov. Steve Beshear has said he wants to call lawmakers back to Frankfort sometime before next January’s 2014 regular session of the General Assembly to redraw state legislative maps.
In 2012, the legislature redrew the maps — each chamber drew its own to benefit the majority’s incumbents and the Democratic House and Republican Senate agreed to accept the other’s. But minority Republican House members and one Democratic senator sued and the courts ruled both plans unconstitutional.
As the 2013 session neared, lawmakers said they could redraw the maps during the regular session without wasting taxpayer money for a special session.
The House passed a new map — one Democratic leaders said addressed the findings of the court in the 2012 ruling — but the Republican Senate said there was no need to take up redistricting until the 2014 session and didn’t act either on the House plan or offer one of its own.
But the two federal lawsuits — one asks the court to order the legislature to redraw maps to meet constitutional guidelines while the other asks the federal court to draw the maps — appears to be the prodding that lawmakers needed to act sooner.
“We stand ready to do our duty on the call of the governor,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester.
Republican Caucus Chairman Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, said Monday the Senate has a plan which will meet the court’s guidelines.
“We’re ready,” Seum said when asked about a new Senate map. “It doesn’t put any two legislators together, and there’s nothing vindictive about it.”
Unlike the congressional maps approved by the General Assembly in 2012 which weren’t thrown out by the courts, the House 2013 map does not count federal prisoners. That’s legal, but Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, has suggested the House plan might still face a court challenge because he said it can’t use two sets of rules to draw congressional and state house districts.
Stivers declined to comment on the two existing lawsuits and resisted the contention of House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, that the Senate is at fault because it didn’t act during the 2013 regular session.
“I am in the process of reviewing the latest filing but believe it inappropriate to comment on the subject matter of either redistricting lawsuits since they are currently in litigation,” said Stivers through his spokeswoman.
“The Speaker should not attempt to cast blame on the Senate, however, since not only did they submit a redistricting plan with only a few days left in the regular session, but they used new numbers that would likely have caused additional litigation in state and federal courts due to the differing standards and criteria in both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions.”
Among the problems with the 2012 maps was a feature of the Senate map which effectively removed Democratic Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, from the ballot by moving her district number to another part of the state and re-numbering the district where she lived so that it would not be on the ballot when her current term ended.
Meanwhile, the House placed several Republicans into the same district so they couldn’t all be re-elected. Both maps had at least one district larger than the 5 percent deviation from the ideal district size, and the House map split more the minimum number of counties.
Some have suggested Beshear may wait until September to call a special session but Stumbo prefers to get the question out of the way.
“We’ve already done ours,” Stumbo said. “Someone suggested we just show ours to the court and ask the court to go ahead and adopt our plan and draw the Senate districts.”
He said the only reason to delay a special session is if there are some economic development projects which could be combined on the governor’s call but which may not be fully developed at this point.
“If that’s the case, I would hope they’d all be tied together and get it done as quickly as possible in one session,” Stumbo said.
He declined to identify any potential incentive packages which might be placed on a special session agenda.
But Toyota recently announced it will add a production line at its Georgetown facility, and there was a recent agreement between an aluminum smelter in western Kentucky with electrical cooperative Big Rivers over electrical rates after a lengthy public fight. Either might be candidates for state assistance.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.