By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s lawmakers can’t decide who they represent.
Legislative leaders debated for nearly an hour Wednesday without any resolution on what to tell constituents about who actually represents their districts in the Kentucky General Assembly.
The complex question stems from last summer’s special legislative session, in which lawmakers drew new boundaries for the House’s 100 districts and the Senate’s 38 districts.
The new maps passed legal muster in the courts but created a problem for legislative staff when constituents asked which lawmaker represents them: the legislator who was last elected by the constituent or the legislator who lives in the constituent’s newly-drawn district.
Staff also said they need to know how they should list legislators and their districts on the legislative website and in 2014 legislative directories.
Acting Legislative Research Commission director Marcia Seiler asked legislative leaders at their monthly meeting Wednesday to provide guidance on the issue.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, made a motion that the LRC give constituents the names of legislators from the newly-drawn districts. He said the new redistricting law had an emergency clause, meaning it took effect immediately upon its passage.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, agreed with Thayer, noting a 1982 opinion from then-Attorney General Steve Beshear, who is now governor, that said a legislator represents the people of the new district in which he or she is placed in redistricting.
But House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said constituents expect their representative or senator be the ones they elected.
Thayer maintained that Stumbo’s approach is based on politics.
He claimed that several House Republican members have been denied messages from constituents in the newly-drawn districts, which could hurt their re-election efforts as the GOP attempts to gain control of the House in next year’s elections.
Stumbo denied the accusation and Thayer declined to provide any names of affected lawmakers to reporters.
Thayer’s motion failed. It needed nine votes for a majority. It garnered seven votes from Republican leaders in the Senate and House. The five House Democratic leaders voted against it, while the three Senate Democratic leaders did not vote. House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, was absent.
Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, said after the vote that legislative leaders did not have enough time to consider the issue before Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’re going to have to have more time to fix problems between the speaker and the Senate president,” he said without elaboration.
Asked after the meeting to describe the working relationship between House and Senate Democratic leaders, Stumbo said, “we’re working on it.”
Some leaders suggested that legislators be allowed to receive messages from constituents in any county they choose.
Stivers and Stumbo said they would try to find a resolution before the leaders’ December meeting.