By Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear indicated Tuesday that he is likely to call a special legislative session this year to redraw the boundaries of state legislative districts.
“I hope to deal with redistricting sometime before the next regular session in January so that it will not become a distraction when we’re preparing the budget for the commonwealth for the next two years,” Beshear said. “I will continue to discuss this possibility with legislative leaders.”
Beshear’s comments came after House Speaker Greg Stumbo told him in a letter Tuesday that the Democratic-controlled House “stands ready” to tackle redistricting if he should decide to call a special session.
Lawmakers are not scheduled to meet again in session until the 2014 General Assembly begins in January. Only the governor can call a special session and set its agenda.
“I believe this is an issue better resolved sooner than later,” Stumbo said in his letter to Beshear. “We need to avoid costly litigation that, no matter how it is decided, will end with the same result: new legislative districts for the House and Senate.”
Several Northern Kentucky officials and residents filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in Covington to compel the General Assembly to finish redistricting before November.
Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown, three Northern Kentucky judge-executives, some members of the Tea Party movement and others said they feel underrepresented in the legislature.
They argue that lawmakers failed in the last two sessions to properly redraw House and Senate district boundaries to reflect population changes in the previous decade. An increase in population from 2000 to 2010 in Northern Kentucky means the area should have more representatives, they contend.
The lawsuit contends that a judge should redraw the districts if the General Assembly does not complete the task before Nov. 4, which would allow candidates for the 2014 election to meet a one-year residency requirement to live in the district they represent.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, reminded Beshear in his letter Tuesday that the Democratic-controlled House approved a redistricting plan in this year’s session but the Republican-controlled Senate did not consider the issue.
The General Assembly approved a redistricting plan in 2012, but the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected the plan after a challenge to its constitutionality by House Republicans and Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington.
Stumbo argued in his letter to Beshear that the current House plan “meets every point called for in the 2012 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.”
He added that it is “absolutely crucial that both the House and Senate be on the same page” before Beshear calls them back to the Capitol for a special session to make sure it is as short as possible. A special session would cost taxpayers more than $60,000 a day.
It appears the two chambers remain at loggerheads over the issue.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in an email Tuesday that the House sent the Senate its redistricting plan this year “so late in the session that they would have forced us to change the schedule by adding days and costs to the taxpayer.
He said it was “mathematically impossible for the Senate, using the House’s flawed numbers,” to adhere to the court ruling that limited the number of counties lawmakers could split between multiple Senate districts.
“It is a shame, but not unexpected given their past actions, that the House now chooses to rewrite history by continuing their games of gotcha politics,” said Stivers. “The Senate will not be so vindictive. We stand ready to do our duty upon the call of the governor.”
The two chambers traditionally have agreed to adopt each other’s redistricting plan without making changes.