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Friday, February 10, 2012

Kentucky House Members Change Mind, Will Appeal Judge Shephard's Redistricting Ruling And Plan To Run In Districts Declared Unconstitutional.

Legislators to appeal ruling on districts
House, Senate seek to run this year under new maps
Written by Joseph Gerth

FRANKFORT, KY. — The Kentucky House and Senate decided Thursday to appeal to the state Supreme Court a ruling that new legislative districts are unconstitutional — and said they would seek to run this year in the new districts.

The move appears to run counter to an announcement made Wednesday after a closed House Democratic caucus meeting. A spokesman had said then that the House members would agree to run in the current districts but would ask the high court to rule that the new districts meet constitutional muster.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled Tuesday that both the House and Senate redistricting plans — required every decade after the latest census — violate constitutional requirements requiring districts to be roughly the same size, as well as a provision in the state constitution requiring redistricting plans to divide as few counties as possible.

He also raised questions about whether the House plan violated a provision requiring districts to contain contiguous counties and whether the Senate plan unnecessarily disenfranchised more than 113,000 people in Fayette County by, in effect, delaying the election in a district there by two years.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said that the appeal probably would be filed early next week and that lawyers for the House and Senate would ask that the high court take the case directly, bypassing the state Court of Appeals in an effort to expedite the court challenge.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said a notice of appeal would likely be filed today in Franklin Circuit Court.

The House and Senate redistricting plans are contained in House Bill 1.
Congressional deal

While the General Assembly’s leaders girded for the continuing court battle on legislative redistricting, they appeared nearer to a deal on redrawing congressional district lines — an agreement that has eluded them throughout the 2012 session.

Stivers said the Senate would vote on a plan today but he wouldn’t say what it included. Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said his understanding is that the map the Senate will approve has been negotiated by Stumbo and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-5th District.

The Senate originally balked at the plan, but Sen. R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said he believed the congressional delegation was pushing for finality.

Stivers said that if the House and Senate agree on the plan, it would make moot a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeking to have the old congressional lines declared unconstitutional and asking a judge to draw new ones.
Week of confusion

The decision to appeal Shepherd’s ruling came during a chaotic week in which multiple redistricting plans were in place temporarily and the House and Senate seemed to struggle to agree on a next move.

Pierce Whites, a lawyer for Stumbo, said House Democrats voted Wednesday to challenge the plan and seek to run in the new districts but added that a caucus statement indicating they would agree to run in the old districts was “misleading.”

The week also saw some legislators who were planning to retire change their minds and file for office after the new districts were ruled unconstitutional.

And it saw some who had announced bids for the state Senate reconsider and file to run for the House instead.

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, has filed twice for the state House and once for the Senate as the plans have changed. He’s had to pay $600 to do so — three times the usual $200 filing fee.

“We’re knowledgeable with the process but for (those who haven’t held office before) it must be fairly confusing,” he said.

The legislature’s decision to appeal means that the game of political musical chairs isn’t over and may not be for some time.

Stumbo said he would advise House members to try to file more than once with the Kentucky secretary of state to cover their bases, for both the new and old districts. Stivers agreed that candidates should be allowed to file multiple times to cover themselves under any scenario.

But Lynn Zellen, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, said state law prohibits people from filing for multiple offices at the same time.

Stumbo said that there would not be an attempt to change the filing deadline — currently 4 p.m. today.

“I’ve had enough of opening and reopening filing deadlines,” he said.

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