By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Even while three federal judges keep watch, proposed new legislative maps appear to be sailing through the special session of the General Assembly, which convened Monday.
On Tuesday, the House bill easily cleared the State Government Committee on a 25-4 vote, with three Republicans, Dwight Butler, Dian St. Onge and Sal Santorum, and one Democrat, Jimmie Lee, voting no.
The bill was amended in committee to include an emergency clause that would allow the measure to become law immediately upon signature by the governor, but it will also now require 51 votes to pass.
Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo told the committee the clause was in response to the judges’ ruling last Friday declaring the existing district lines, drawn in 2002, unconstitutional. That prompted a motion before the judges by Stumbo asking them to withdraw the order because of the required 51-vote threshold necessary to make the new maps effective immediately.
After Tuesday’s meeting, however, Stumbo told reporters that’s no longer a concern, and he’s confident the bill will easily clear that hurdle in the House when it comes up for a floor vote Wednesday.
“After (House Democrats) caucused yesterday and after we heard back from the (Republican) caucus, I’m confident there are enough votes to pass it,” Stumbo said. “I didn’t know that yesterday,” when the motion was argued before the federal judges.
“I think it may get upwards of 70 votes, maybe more,” Stumbo said.
The other motion before the courts concerns how any special elections might be conducted if vacancies occur before the 2014 election.
Stumbo contends that by throwing out the 2002 district lines, there would be no appropriate district in which to hold special elections.
He says that such elections are held to represent the voters who chose the departing legislature, and if the election is held under the new map, a separate block of voters would choose the successor.
Stumbo is asking the court to amend its Friday order to allow any special elections between now and 2014 to be conducted under the old district boundaries.
The judges allowed plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits to file briefs in opposition to the Stumbo motions, which were due by 5 p.m. Tuesday. It’s not known when the court may rule on the motions.
But Senate President Robert Stivers Tuesday disagreed with Stumbo’s position, saying once the new districts become law, those are the lines under which special elections should be conducted.
“You’re elected to the number (of the district) and the number attaches to the geographical district,” Stivers said. “So as soon as this map becomes final, and the governor signs it, then that’s your new district. That is the district of the number.”
Stivers also said he saw no difficulty in securing the required 20 votes in the Senate to pass an emergency clause.
Earlier Tuesday, Stivers took to the floor to defend the Senate map which includes one district – the 4th which stretches along the Ohio River from Henderson to Livingston County – outside population ranges prescribed by previous court rulings.
Those rulings have said districts should not vary from the ideal population size by more than plus or minus 5 percent.
But Stivers said maps can go outside the deviation range if legislators are trying to pursue other “legitimate state interests.” The Kentucky Constitution requires such maps split the minimum number of counties without breaking up natural political divisions.
Stivers said the 4th District is 6.5 percent below the ideal size so it doesn’t diminish any votes while the plan legitimately tries to preserve “core districts, respect county lines and not supplant the will of the people by placing incumbents together.”
Quoting the judges’ Friday ruling, Stivers said the proposed Senate map is “free from the taint of arbitrariness and discrimination.”
“This is a map that is fair and correct in the eyes of the law, and I believe the courts will agree with what we do,” Stivers said.
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.