Redistricting: A long process
by Rep. Fitz Steele Legislative Update
Normally, August is a relatively quiet month for the General Assembly, but the halls of the Capitol were busy last week as the House and Senate returned briefly to finalize new geographic lines for all 138 legislative seats.
This constitutional duty happens after every Census, so that each district properly reflects the population changes that occurred over the previous decade. Redistricting, as the process is called, is truly a statewide process, because everything has to fit like pieces of a puzzle. That means all of the districts have to be altered, though most are not drastically different.
For our 84th district, that means Perry and Harlan counties.
Those who have followed this issue know that this has been a long process. Preliminary work began in 2011, and the General Assembly adopted new maps 2012.
The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, ruled that these plans had to be modified; in the House’s case, the justices said too many of our smaller counties were split, even though the number was the same as the map that was approved – and never legally challenged – in 2002.
That latest requirement means we can only split 22 counties larger than a single House district and two other small ones that are needed so all 100 House districts can meet another general requirement: Making sure all are within five percent of the ideal population, which is 43,394 people. In addition, we also have to ensure that minority voting rights are not diluted.
Earlier this year, the House passed a map that met all of these guidelines, but the Senate said that the issue should wait until the start of the next legislative session in January, before the filing deadline to run for office. That wasn’t an unprecedented request; in fact, it’s similar to how redistricting was handled in 2002. And the delay this year did enable the General Assembly to turn its full attention to strengthening the pension systems for state and local governments, a major priority of both chambers that will save taxpayers billions of dollars in the years ahead.
The timetable for redistricting was forced to change shortly after this year’s regular legislative session ended, however, because of two federal lawsuits that were filed seeking a much quicker resolution. When the three judges hearing the cases set a trial date for next month, they indicated that they would draw the maps if the General Assembly failed to do so. The hope is that this will not happen, since the maps are now officially on the books with bipartisan support.
For now, let me say that this has been a long, sometimes confusing process for all involved, and I certainly understand the concerns I have heard from many of you. At the very least, what has taken place should significantly streamline the process the next time redistricting comes up a little less than a decade from now. The need to accomplish this much more quickly is certainly there.
As always, if you want to let me know your thoughts on this or any other issue affecting the state, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.
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