The opening day of a special session of the Kentucky General Assembly set the stage for the legislature’s latest attempt at drawing new legislative district maps amid uncertainty over the timeliness of that process as a result of recent federal court action.
After honoring Miss Kentucky 2013, Jenna Day, and recognizing Democratic Rep. James Kay, D-56, state representatives quickly got down to business by introducing a pair of redistricting bills that will determine new boundaries for members of the state House of Representatives.
Proposals unveiled earlier this month by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Minority Floor leader Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, were swiftly deferred to the House State and Local Government Committee, which will vote on those bills at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.
Stumbo previously said Hoover’s plan did not have a chance of passing the house. Michael Goins, communications director for the house GOP caucus, said that beyond Hoover’s intention to introduce the plan tomorrow morning, “he has nothing to add.” Democrats and Republicans seemed positive about the Democratic plan, which stands in stark contrast to previous maps passed in 2012 that were concerned more with drawing opposition members out of their respective districts.
Speaking to reporters outside the house chamber, Stumbo said he expects both the house and senate to pass their respective plans by the end of the week.
“We’ll be done by Friday,” he said.
Off the floor, however, the sense of optimism was balanced by a sense of urgency generated by a ruling from a three-judge panel tasked with ensuring the legality of new maps. A ruling handed down by that court on Friday could potentially stretch the special session, which costs taxpayers $60,000 per day, beyond its intended lifespan of five days and into next week.
Friday’s ruling declared that the current maps drawn in 2002 and based on outdated population data from the 2000 census to be unconstitutional. While the ruling wouldn’t complicate the special election of Rep. Kay, D-56, who was elected in June, it could portend problems for future unexpected vacancies in the house.
In an at-times heated teleconference held Monday afternoon, Stumbo’s general counsel, Pierce Whites, argued on behalf of a new motion filed Monday by Stumbo that would attempt to create a contingency for such vacancies. Because the 2002 maps are now essentially voided, Whites argued, there is no plan in place to constitutionally handle a vacancy in the legislature through a special election, and that the 2002 lines should only remain in effect for elections through 2014 as a remedy.
Citing Kentucky legal precedent, Whites said that “district lines that apply to a special election must be the ones that were in place” originally.
William Sharp, an attorney for the ACLU representing one of the two voter-disenfranchisement lawsuits before the court, disagreed.
“What they’re really ask the court to do is amend the Friday ruling based on a speculative future contingency which may never occur,” Sharp said.
If the court’s latest order remains unamended, the House would likely be forced to add an emergency clause to its redistricting bill. If that happens, any new maps would immediately go into effect, bypassing the traditional 90 days that must elapse for legislation to go into effect.
A bill tacked with an emergency clause requires a constitutional majority (51 votes) to ensure passage according to Kentucky law. Regular bills require a simple majority. An emergency clause would thus raise the threshold needed by Stumbo to secure enough votes for the house plan.
In the event of a vacancy if the order remains as it stands, Whites said that if the governor were to sign a writ of election in order to call a special election, “the court’s interference would spill into legislative and executive issues.”
A spokesman for Stumbo said he expects the plaintiffs to respond to the motion by 5 p.m. Tuesday, and did not give a timetable for when the judges might hand down their ruling.
The house will reconvene Tuesday at noon.