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District changes appear dead for this election

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By Alex Wimsatt

 FRANKFORT - Under a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling issued Friday, the legislative district lines drawn in 2002 will remain in place until the General Assembly passes a new plan that meets constitutional muster. 

In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the legislative redistricting plan contained in House Bill 1, which passed the General Assembly and was signed by Gov. Steve Beshear in January, was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court issued an order briefly explaining its decision on Friday afternoon. 

“Having considered the briefs filed by the parties and having heard oral argument thereon, this Court concludes that House Bill 1, the reapportionment act of 2012, is facially unconstitutional,” the order states.

Due to the expedited nature of the case, the Supreme Court has not yet issued its full opinion, which would have more information as to why the court deemed the new plan unconstitutional.

As for when legislators might go back to the drawing board that remains to be seen, however Senate majority leaders have indicated they would like to see new redistricting legislation taken up before the 2012 regular session of the General Assembly adjourns before April 15. 

Senate President David Williams’ spokesperson Lourdes Baez-Schrader said Senate Republican Leader Robert Stivers has stated the Senate is prepared to take up redistricting legislation this session and senators hope to talk with House leaders on the possibility of doing so. 

What’s more, Baez-Schrader said the Senate is prepared to map its own redistricting plan to “get it out of the way.”

While Senate leaders hope to tackle redistricting before the end of the session, communications director for House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Brian Wilkerson, said House Democratic leaders have taken no action on the issue as of yet. 

Wilkerson also said the speaker has indicated the House majority has no intention of proposing redistricting legislation this session. 

If the General Assembly does not consider redistricting legislation this session they will have to wait until January 2013, unless the governor calls a special session this year. 

Baez-Schrader said Williams would not comment on how the Supreme Court’s ruling would affect new redistricting legislation because the court’s full opinion has not been issued, but Wilkerson said if what he’s heard about the court’s decision is correct new district maps may look very different than those contained in HB1. 

“It’s too early to say what a plan might look like,” he said. “At this point it looks like redistricting will have to start from ground up.”

Under the redistricting plan that was effectively struck down by the Supreme Court’s ruling, Bullitt County would have had two House districts and a Senate district shared with Nelson County.

Under the current plan, which was adopted in 2002, Bullitt County shares a Senate seat with Shelby and Spencer counties and is divided into four incontiguous House districts, one of which stretches more than 100 miles to western Kentucky. 

Local resident David Strange, who spent a year lobbying legislators to improve Bullitt County’s district lines, said he’s fearful of how Bullitt County might be carved up when legislators go back to the drawing board.  

“Those new districts were really good for Bullitt County and we’re hoping they can be maintained in new redistricting,” Strange said on behalf of Unite Bullitt County, a local group of concerned citizens aimed at improving the county’s representation. 

Strange said he’s hopeful the county will fare as well as it had under HB1 when new redistricting legislation is proposed, but he’s uncertain. 

“If the legislature doesn’t do something this session we’re stuck with what we’ve had for at least another two years,” he said.