FRANKFORT — The Kentucky General Assembly kicked off the first day of its 2022 legislative session Tuesday, with Republicans in both chambers filing redistricting bills that are expected to speed to final passage by Saturday.
The full maps had not yet been shared publicly as of that afternoon, but Republican Senate President Robert Stivers told reporters the new congressional districts would not substantially change the makeup of Kentucky's 3rd District.
Under the proposed map, the 3rd District will include all but the very south and east of Jefferson County, likely remaining the state's lone Democratic stronghold — despite the hopes and fears of some that Republicans would split up the district in an effort for the party to gain every congressional seat in Kentucky.
Stivers also said the 4th Congressional District — currently held by GOP Rep. Thomas Massie — will no longer include the easternmost portion of Jefferson County, while the 2nd District of GOP Rep. Brett Guthrie will now include the south and part of the east of the county.
Republicans in both chambers also filed bills to change the state House and Senate districts in this year's election, as is constitutionally required every 10 years with the new U.S. Census to account for shifts in population.
While proposed maps released by House Republicans last week would pit four pairs of incumbents against one another this year, Stivers said the new Senate map would not pit any incumbents against each other.
House Democrats have been very critical of the proposed redistricting maps for their chamber, and some speculated that litigation may be filed to block such a bill, but the caucus was still reviewing the new bill filed by House Republicans as of Tuesday afternoon.
Stivers also filed Senate Bill 20, which would alter the way in which redistricting bills could be challenged in court.
Whereas the current state statute has a randomly selected panel of three Circuit Court judges handle legal actions challenging the constitutionality of legislative districts, SB 20 would instead direct such litigation to the circuit court in the county of the plaintiff.
The redistricting bills are expected to speed to final passage on Saturday and head to the governor's desk for his signature, though the deadline for candidates to file for office is Friday.
Stivers said he expects both the House and Senate to pass identical bills this week to push back the filing deadline a few weeks, saying he expects both chambers to waive the required three readings of bills to pass both in one day.
A Senate committee will take up the two redistricting bills Wednesday morning, while a House committee at noon will take up the House redistricting bill, one that pushes the filing deadline back to Jan. 25 and another that redistricts the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The seven districts of the Kentucky Supreme Court have not changed in decades despite massive population shifts, but House Bill 179 — filed by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville — would shift the boundaries of every district except for the Fourth District, made up of only Jefferson County.
House Bill 179 has an emergency clause, meaning the districts will be in effect for this year's election, including the Kentucky Court of Appeals races that are based on the Supreme Court districts.
Gov. Andy Beshear has not definitively said if he would sign a bill to push back the filing deadline, or how long he would hold onto the redistricting bills before potentially vetoing them. Governors have up to 10 days to sign or veto a bill before it becomes law.
Despite rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in Kentucky and a record-high positivity rate with the omicron variant, most of the Republican legislators in the supermajority and a handful of Democrats did not wear masks in the chamber Tuesday.
Just like the session last year, there is no requirement for legislators to where masks inside either chamber.
Shortly after both chambers adjourned the first day of the session Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey of Louisville told The Courier Journal that Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, had tested positive for COVID-19 after a rapid test that morning on the Capitol campus.
McGarvey said every Democratic Senate member and staffer took a rapid test that morning, with each besides Thomas testing negative.
Thomas was on KET's Kentucky Tonight program the previous night with three other legislators.
While Beshear said Monday he hoped the legislature would pass a bill returning to him the power to require masks in all public schools, Stivers said there was no chance the Republican supermajority would do so and would continue to leave that decision up to each district.
Education bill gets top billing in Senate
The top priority bill for Senate Republicans is one that could significantly shift power from Kentucky's school-based decision-making councils to superintendents and the district school boards that hire them.
Senate Bill 1, filed by Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, would give authority to make decisions on curriculum, textbooks and the hiring of principals to superintendents, making the SBDM councils — made up of parents, teachers and school administrators — more of an advisory body.
Stivers said the SBDM councils are now the ones making decisions on hiring, "but they are not held responsible if a school goes into decline."
"The school boards associations and the superintendents have been consistent in their message that that should be returned back to them," Stivers said. "And I think we're the only state that has this type of mechanism in site-based councils. Because if that becomes in decline, it is the superintendent and school board that are in essence sanctioned."
While past bills to reform SBDM councils took away one seat from teachers, SB 1 would keep the membership of the councils the same.
Source : https://www.palmbeachpost.com/story/news/politics/ky-general-assembly/2022/01/04/kentucky-legislature-kicks-off-2022-session-redistricting-plan/9091999002/1537