FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear on Friday immediately signed a bill that changes boundaries for legislative districts that appears to be free of any overt attempts at partisan one-upmanship, potentially ending nearly two years of wrangling by lawmakers over how to redraw the maps.
Three federal judges overseeing the Legislature's efforts will have final say on the constitutionality of the House and Senate districts.
"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 statement.
The House had voted 79-18 Friday morning to approve the redistricting bill soon after the Senate had passed it 35-2, reflecting broad bipartisan support.
Beshear had called lawmakers into special session Monday to redraw boundaries around legislative districts. He urged them to complete their work as quickly as possible because of the $60,000-a-day cost of a special session.
Kentucky's legislative process requires a minimum of five days to get a bill to final passage. By wrapping up Friday, they limited the overall cost of the special session to about $300,000.
Redistricting is undertaken every 10 years to account for population changes recorded by the Census Bureau. Kentucky had major population shifts between 2000 and 2010, requiring reconfiguration of legislative districts in both the House and Senate to comply with the federal and state "one person, one vote" mandate.
The state's overall population rose from 4 million to 4.3 million, and shifted largely from rural communities to urban areas.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee modified the legislation Thursday, adding new Senate district boundaries to the measure that previously had addressed only House districts. That modification required that the bill be returned to the House for final passage after the Senate's approval.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester, and Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, of Prestonsburg, said the plan is fair and constitutional.
The bill Beshear signed Friday is a stark contrast to a House-led measure passed last year that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Kentucky Supreme Court. That plan would have essentially forced some Republicans out of the Legislature. The Senate's plan would have done the same to Democrats. The partisan bickering that resulted from those efforts led to lawsuits that slowed Kentucky's enactment of new boundary lines.
Republican Sen. Joe Bowen, chairman of the State and Local Government Committee, said the measure may not be perfect, but neither is it partisan or punitive.
"If there were to be criticism of this map, it would be that it is not partisan enough," Bowen said.
The three-judge panel has been observing the process, ready to step in if lawmakers didn't resolve the matter constitutionally. Friday's legislative action will likely trigger a new round of court motions asking the judges to review the new boundaries.
The latest measure would redraw House boundaries in a way that would put four Democrats and four Republicans in the same districts. The Senate proposal would pit no incumbents against each other.
"It's a welcome change, but the real beneficiaries of that change are the citizens of this commonwealth," said Senate Minority Floor Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester.
While the proposal had broad bipartisan support, not everyone is happy.
Republican Reps. Myron Dossett of Pembroke and Ben Waide of Madisonville would share District 9, setting up a potential primary election battle. Republican Reps. C.B. Embry and Jim DeCesare would both be in District 17.
In northeastern Kentucky, Democratic Rep. Kevin Sinnette would potentially be pitted against powerful Democratic House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins in District 100. And two veteran Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Hubert Collins of Wittensville and John Will Stacy of West Liberty, would share District 97.