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Kentucky House GOP leaders unveil redistricting plan

Four sets of Kentucky House incumbents – split equally among Republican and Democratic lawmakers – would be placed into the same districts under a redistricting plan House GOP leaders unveiled Thursday.

Under the proposed map, two sets of rural GOP lawmakers on opposite ends of the state would be paired with each other in newly drawn districts. Two pairs of urban Democrats would be placed into the same Louisville districts. Those incumbents would face off in the 2022 spring primary, if the proposal wins legislative approval and the lawmakers decide to seek reelection.

The new boundaries for the 100-member chamber also would create two additional districts where the majority of voters would represent ethnic and racial minority populations, House Speaker David Osborne said.

The long-awaited remapping plan comes days before lawmakers convene next week for the start of their 2022 session.

Redistricting looms as the top priority in the opening week. Redistricting plans for congressional and state Senate districts haven’t been revealed.

Republicans hold supermajorities in both Kentucky legislative chambers.

Redistricting bills will be put on a fast track. Legislators are likely to be in session Jan. 8 – a Saturday – to wrap up the work and send the new maps to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, Osborne said.

Lawmakers also plan to consider legislation in those opening days to extend the filing deadline for candidates, which is now Jan. 7.

Under the House plan, the new boundaries would double the number of districts – from two to four – where the majority of voters would represent ethnic and racial minority populations, Osborne said. Also under the plan, two other districts would have “increased minority influence,” he said.

The new House district map would not divide any precinct in the state, he said.

“We tried to draw districts as compactly as we possibly could,” Osborne said.

The redistricting plan complies with legal and constitutional requirements, he said.

Their supermajority status in the General Assembly puts Republicans in full control of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Their lopsided majorities also created complications due to population losses in many rural counties in eastern and western Kentucky represented by GOP lawmakers.

“Trying to fit those pieces back together in consideration of that population loss was very difficult and resulted in a lot of change,” Osborne said.

After months of work preparing the new boundaries, the speaker expected some pushback.

“I understand that there will be criticisms of it,” he said. “I’m sure that some of our own members have criticisms of it.”

If the plan remains intact, two GOP House incumbents from eastern Kentucky – Reps. Norma Kirk-McCormick and Bobby McCool – would be placed in the same district. The same would apply to two Republican members from western Kentucky – Reps. Lynn Bechler and Jim Gooch Jr.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Mary Lou Marzian and Josie Raymond would be paired in the same district, as would Reps. McKenzie Cantrell and Lisa Willner.


News
'How can this be done?': Pastor organizing disaster relief amazed at response

Eighteen days removed from the tornado outbreak that brought mass destruction to Bowling Green and Warren County, Living Hope Baptist Church Global Impact Pastor Clay Mullins was greeted Wednesday by what has become a familiar sight: dozens of volunteers showing up at the disaster relief volunteer headquarters.

Although the bulk of the tree-cutting and other heavy work has been done, Mullins was still dealing with a logistical puzzle as he pondered a whiteboard containing names and addresses of local residents still needing help.

“Where we are now is, the big work is done,” said Mullins, whose background in organizing mission projects led to him being in charge of volunteers cleaning up after the Dec. 11 tornadoes. “We’re now looking for hidden work, cleaning up debris in backyards and that sort of thing.”

Perhaps no one is more amazed than Mullins that the volunteer cleanup effort has reached this point so soon after what is arguably the worst natural disaster in the city’s history.

“When I first looked at the damage, I thought, ‘How can this be done?’ ” Mullins recalled. “I’ve been amazed at how quickly it has gone.”

Mullins, whose job requires him to organize teams that are normally sent to disaster sites around the country, found himself working closer to home this time.

“We started Sunday the 12th,” Mullins said. “We sent out almost 300 people, all from Living Hope. At the end of the day, I got a call from the city asking if we’d coordinate the volunteers.”

That led to Mullins organizing what has become a multi-state effort, with many teams of volunteers working to cut up downed trees and take that and other debris to roadsides for pickup by the CrowderGulf disaster recovery company that has contracted with the city and county governments.

“I feel like half the United States has my phone number now,” Mullins said. “I’ve received calls from all over from people wanting to send teams, from big companies down to a family of four. It has been wonderful to see.”

Mullins, who at first assembled a volunteer headquarters at the Western Kentucky University Center for Research and Development on Nashville Road but is moving it to the Greenwood Mall next week, said organizing a mission project in his own town “has been a wonderful experience.”

“It’s awesome to be able to love on my city,” the pastor said.

He’s not alone.

While volunteers have come from many states, the Warren Association of Baptists disaster relief team that is normally deployed to areas hit by hurricanes or other disasters has been able to help out in its hometown.

One Warren Association crew member, retired Bowling Green Police Department Maj. Marieca Brown, was helping clear debris along Lansdale Avenue on Wednesday.

“My husband and I have been doing this since I retired,” Brown said. “It’s satisfying to do but also heartbreaking.

“I’ve done work in Louisiana, Tennessee and Illinois. It’s more devastating to do it in your hometown because you know what the place looked like before.”

The work for Brown and other volunteers may be winding down, but Mullins still plans to deploy volunteers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster recovery headquarters in the Greenwood Mall as needs arise.

“If people will let us know that they still need help, we’ll get volunteers out there,” Mullins said.

He said people needing help with debris cleanup or other tornado-related problems can go to the live hopeful.com website and click on the “I need help” link to request assistance.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.


News
Warren County tax deadline extended

Citing disruptions caused by the Dec. 11 tornado outbreak, Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon has issued an emergency order extending by three months the deadline for paying county property taxes without penalty.

Originally, county property owners were subject to a penalty if they paid their property taxes after Dec. 31. Buchanon’s order extends that to March 31.

“Due to the special circumstances caused by the tornado damage that created so many hardships on so many people, we were given special authorization by the state to extend the deadline,” Buchanon said in a text message.

The emergency order said property taxes levied by the county must now be paid by March 31 to avoid the delinquent penalty.

A 5% penalty will be assessed on payments made during the month of April. The penalty jumps to 21% beginning May 1.

Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower, whose office is responsible for tax collections, said the extension will help many residents.

“We’ve probably collected 90% of the taxes already,” Hightower said, “but many in that remaining 10% could have obstacles as a result of the tornado.”

Buchanon said the extension was certainly warranted in a county where more than 1,000 homes and 100 businesses were damaged or destroyed in the powerful storms.

“If ever there were circumstances that warranted a waiver to accept delayed payments without penalties, it is now,” he said.

The city of Bowling Green has also extended its property tax deadline by three months to March 31.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.


News
Hospitals end year in midst of COVID-19 spike

Amid the latest wave of COVID-19, The Medical Center at Bowling Green and T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Glasgow are running at “very high capacity” heading into 2022.

Med Center Health Executive Vice President Wade Stone said Thursday the hospital had 29 COVID-19 inpatients. T.J. Regional Health Executive Vice President of Marketing Stacey Biggs said the Glasgow hospital had 13 such patients.

Of the Bowling Green hospital’s 29 inpatients, Stone said 78% were unvaccinated, nine were in critical care and eight were on a ventilator. None of the eight individuals who are hospitalized and vaccinated had their booster shot.

“I thought that was interesting,” Stone said. “We had gotten down to 11 inpatients around Nov. 18. Then our inpatient numbers have been sitting at the high 20s for some time. We are seeing a definite uptick in the volume coming into the ER.

“Vaccination is key,” he said. “For those who are eligible for their booster, I can’t emphasize how important it is to get that. It’s very effective against the omicron variant.”

Stone said the Bowling Green hospital is “very full” amid the rise in COVID-19 inpatients and because of several other sicknesses being prevalent this time of year.

He said the number of employees who are out because of COVID-19 is beginning to rise as well.

“Aside from COVID-19, the busiest time for the hospital tends to be between January through March,” Stone said. “COVID-19 numbers going up is definitely the concern as we head into January. I do know that we have seen a significant increase in patients getting tested for COVID in the past couple of weeks.”

As of Thursday, Stone said Med Center Health had distributed 102,581 shots of COVID-19 vaccine. That number includes 8,708 booster doses.

At T.J. Samson, Biggs said the hospital was hovering in the mid teens for COVID-19 inpatients for much of this week. At the start of November, the Glasgow hospital had three such patients.

“It’s just climbed since then,” Biggs said. “We haven’t hit the peak we hit in the middle of September yet. We saw a couple of weeks of decline in mid-December, but this past week it has increased again. The positivity rate here was 16.4% for the last week. We are doing a lot of testing right now after the week of Christmas.”

She said of the 13 COVID-19 inpatients, two were vaccinated, five were in intensive care and three were on a ventilator.

Biggs said the hospital was still running at high capacity and critical care bed capacity across all patients was at 140%.

“All of our clinics have been very busy and have been doing a lot of swabs and testing,” Biggs said. “We have to believe some of it is due to after-Christmas exposures.”

She said staffing issues are also a problem with 17 employees out because of COVID-19 exposure.

As of Thursday, Warren County still ranked as one of the state’s lowest in vaccination rate with 41.27% of the county’s population vaccinated.

The latest update from the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Human Services on Thursday showed every county in the Barren River region was marked red for having a “critical” COVID incidence rate expect for Butler County.

Of the 10 counties in the Barren River region, two have a vaccination rate of at least 50%: Simpson and Logan. Warren, Allen, Monroe, Metcalfe, Barren and Butler County all have a vaccination rate of at least 40%.

Edmonson and Hart County both have a rate below 40% and are two of the five lowest vaccinated counties in the state.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.


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