Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Session opens with fighting

Committees, redistricting prompt partisan arguments

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — Any prospect of bipartisan cooperation in the 2002 General Assembly seems to have disappeared the first day Tuesday with bickering over redistricting and committee makeup setting a sour tone.

        House Democrats pondered introduction of a bill that would draw new boundaries for the House and Senate, departing from a recent practice of each chamber setting their own districts.

        Senate Republicans countered that if the House proceeds, they might tinker with House districts on their own. The result would likely be gridlock and courts drawing new district boundaries for the legislature.

        If nothing can be done, Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, offered a bill that would delay the filing deadline for this year's primary from Jan. 29 to April 15 and the primary itself from May 28 to June 18.

        The Senate, which teeters on a 20-18 Republican advantage, broke out into a partisan fight almost immediately after the session began at noon.

        At issue was the Senate Education Committee, which for a time was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. That was before Republicans gained control, and the committee's makeup now is 7-6 Republican.

        Democrats on Tuesday tried to have the Senate's operating rules written to require an even split once again. The Senate should “institutionalize bipartisanship on schools,” said Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington.

        Senate President David Williams blocked Mr. Scorsone's proposed rule change. Mr. Scorsone appealed Mr. Williams' ruling, which was put to a vote of the full Senate. Mr. Williams, R-Burkesville, was upheld on a party line vote, 20-18.

        “It's not fair and it's not a good note to start the Senate on,” Mr. Scorsone said.

        Mr. Williams said Democrats needed to get accustomed to Republican control. “They're having majority withdrawal,” he said.

        Redistricting, though, has the attention of nearly every legislator.

        House Republican leader Jeff Hoover, of Jamestown, said he has not seen details, but believes the House plan would place four GOP incumbents into districts with other Republican legislators — Bob Heleringer and Ron Crimm in Jefferson County and Johnnie Turner and Howard Cornett in the Harlan-Letcher counties area.

        “I think we'll fight it with all we've got,” Mr. Cornett said.

        Mr. Cornett said the House Democratic redistricting plan would divide more counties than necessary. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled after the 1990 redistricting that a minimum number of counties should be split among districts.

        The one plan that did actually make it onto paper Tuesday would redraw Kentucky's six congressional districts to keep up with population shifts.

        The plan, sponsored by Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe, reverses a long tradition and would take Daviess and Hancock counties from the 2nd District and place them in the 1st District. In exchange, Allen, Monroe, Cumberland and Adair counties would go into the 2nd District. Russell and Clinton counties would go into the 5th District.


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