Kentucky lawmakers will go into special session later this year to craft new maps of political districts based on the most recent U.S. Census data. Legislative leaders want a tentative agreement in place before returning to Frankfort, but one of the hang-ups is whether to include federal prisoners being held in the commonwealth.
Kentucky law says a prison cell is not a residence, and the inmate population can, but doesn't have to be taken into account when drawing political maps. State lawmakers counted federal prisoners when they approved a new Congressional map last year. That map was upheld by a judge while the legislative and judicial maps were ruled unconstitutional.
Lawmakers will use this year's special session to redraw legislative and judicial maps. Legislative leaders agree on the need for consistency, and contend they can't use one set of data for one map and different data for another. House Speaker Greg Stumbo wants the congressional map amended and argues it would have a minimal impact on districts.
"There's only about 8,500 federal prisoners and the average congressional district is 770,000," explains Stumbo.
Senate President Robert Stivers argues consulting again with each congressman would prolong a costly special session.
"So now we get into a situation where we're engaging the federal delegation in a special session issue," remarks Stivers.
Gov. Steve Beshear was meeting Monday afternoon with House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers to try to work on a plan to resolve legislative redistricting.
The governor has said he is confident that the issue will be resolved in a special session sometime this year.
Each decade, lawmakers are required to draw new legislative district boundaries to account for population changes recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kentucky had major population shifts between 2000 and 2010, requiring changes in boundary lines to comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate.
Two federal lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks to speed up the process in Kentucky. One asks that a three-judge panel redraw boundaries.
The state Senate has passed a bill that allows Kentucky military personnel to register to vote and receive ballots electronically—but they'll have to use snail mail to send the ballots back.
Senate President Robert Stivers would allow deployed citizens to register to vote and receive their ballots electronically.
Initially, a floor amendment to the bill would have allowed the military members to return the ballots electronically, but the amendment was withdrawn by sponsor Sen. Kathy Stein, a Lexington Democrat.
Stein said she thinks the state House will reinsert that provision into the bill.
A bill moving Medicaid late payment claims to the Department of Insurance appears to have some support in the state Senate.
House Bill 5 would take prompt pay issues with the Medicaid managed care system and put it through the Insurance Department's current claims process. Currently, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services deal with late claims.
Sen. Julie Denton, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said she plans to give the bill a hearing and supports the bill's attempts to make managed care organizations pay providers.
"I think anything we can do to have more oversight and more assistance in keeping them in compliance with their contracts is a welcome breath of fresh air," she said.
Senate leaders are sensing little interest in a bill that could legalize casinos in Kentucky and won't consider the issue in the current legislative session.
Senate President Robert Stivers, the Republican from Manchester, said Friday lawmakers would have little time to deal with the issue amid an already heavy agenda that includes shoring up the state's pension system for government retirees.
Despite a long history of wagering on horses, Kentucky has never allowed casinos. And lawmakers have been reluctant to change that in the Bible-belt state, knowing they may face disapproving constituents in future elections.
Gov. Steve Beshear, a leading proponent of casino gambling, said last week that passing casino legislation this year would be unlikely because the proponents were divided on how to proceed.
Senate President Robert Stivers kept a pledge Friday by sponsoring legislation aimed at ensuring Kentucky soldiers deployed overseas can cast their ballots back home through an electronic transmission system that the secretary of state will be required to develop.
The bill was given the designation "Senate Bill 1," signifying it is the Senate's top priority in the legislative session.
Secretary of State Alison Grimes, who backs the legislation, said 121 soldiers from Kentucky didn't have their ballots counted in last year's election because they didn't arrive back in the state by Election Day.
The biggest proposed change is that soldiers would no longer have to rely on traditional mail to return their ballots. The bill also would allow late ballots to be counted as long as they're back in the state before elections are certified, which happens three days after Election Day.
If a federal judge's ruling goes into effect, businesses that sell liquor in Kentucky may see increased competition — and those businesses are encouraging legislators to act before an appeals decision comes down.
Judge John Heyburn tossed the laws last year, saying it was unconstitutional to allow places like drug stores to sell some wine and liquor, but not groceries.
But Heyburn put that ruling on hold to let lawmakers re-write the laws. Since that point, interested groups have been working on solutions to keep a free-for-all for liquor licenses across the state from happening.
State Senate President Robert Stivers says he wants to wait on an appeals ruling in the case are finished before lawmakers tackle the issue.
But Roger Leasor, the Director of Community Relations with Liquor Barn, a company that owns many liquor stores across Kentucky, says that's a bad idea.
Work on reforming some of Kentucky’s liquor laws may wait until a federal appeals court rules on a current challenge.
A federal circuit judge threw out state laws dealing with where wine and distilled spirits can be sold, calling them unfair. Currently only select stores — such as liquor stores and pharmacies — can sell those beverages, while others — such as groceries — can only sell beer.
The judge’s ruling challenging that disparity is being appealed to the 6th Circuit and Senate President Robert Stivers wants to wait until that is resolved before his chamber gets involved.
“We have had some discussion of the issue, but we feel it appropriate and it’s my opinion and I feel it appropriate that until it is litigated and gone through the legal system, we don’t know if Judge Heyburn’s decision will be affirmed, or remanded or reversed,” he says.
So far, no proposals on how to change the law that would withstand the judge’s ruling has been put forth, House Speaker Greg Stumbo says.