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Redistricting approved for second time in two years

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By Stephen Lega

The Kentucky legislature last week approved redistricting plans for the state House of Representatives and Senate for the second time in two years.

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The new districts were signed into law Friday by Gov. Steve Beshear.

“I expect these maps will withstand legal scrutiny, so all Kentuckians can be assured of appropriate representation in the General Assembly,” Beshear said in a press statement.

The General Assembly included an emergency provision so that the new districts took effect as soon as they were signed into law.

The legislature approved new districts in 2012 based on the 2010 Census data, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that those districts were unconstitutional. The House approved a plan during the 2013 regular session, but the Senate took no action on redistricting.

A lawsuit was filed earlier this year seeking to force the legislature to complete redistricting by November. Around that time, Beshear announced he would call a special session.

The session lasted the required minimum of five days and cost around $300,000.

Local districts changing
The new districts were approved 79-18 in the House and 35-2 in the Senate.

Marion County will remain in House District 24 and Senate District 14, but the makeup of those districts has changed.

House District 24 has become Marion, LaRue and Green Counties.

State Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, said the final version of the plan was similar to the plan proposed by the Democratic House leadership prior to the session.

He added that the final vote reflected that the proposal had bipartisan support.

“Seventy-nine to 18 for this kind of thing is a pretty good majority,” Mills said.

Senate District 14 will become Casey, Marion, Nelson and Spencer counties and a portion of Jefferson County.

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, said the Senate districts followed the proposal offered by the Senate’s Republican leadership before the session. Higdon said the Senate districts were done fairly, but he added that a legal challenge is possible.

“I feel confident the Senate seats will hold up as constitutional,” he said.

Mills also said he’s heard talk of new lawsuits being filed.

Sexual harassment allegations against legislator

Redistricting was the only issue on the agenda for last week’s special session, but it wasn’t the only reason the legislature was in the news.

Three staff members of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission have filed sexual harassment complaints against Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. The LRC provides fact-finding services for the legislature.

Cassaundra Cooper, Yolanda Costner and Gloria Morgan have accused Arnold of touching them inappropriately and making inappropriate comments. The Courier-Journal reported that Cooper and Costner’s complaints accused Arnold of a pattern of behavior going back to 2010. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Morgan’s complaint goes back to a 2009 incident.

Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo has stated that the accusations are being taken seriously and will be investigated.

Mills and Higdon both said the allegations were the talk of Frankfort.

“It’s very, very unfortunate ... but we do need to make sure we have a workplace that’s free of sexual harassment,” Mills said.

Higdon agreed.

“It is before the ethics commission, and they will review it,” Higdon said. “It’ll go through due process.”