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Political Lines Drawn in 2015 Kentucky General Assembly Session

Kentucky_Capitol_1

The tone in the Kentucky state Capitol has taken a decidedly partisan turn.

In the past week, the state Senate began to quickly pass high-priority bills, the House passed nothing, and leadership in both chambers grappled over how and when to hire a new director of the troubled Legislative Research Commission.

House Committee Appointments

On Friday, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, a Republican from Jamestown, criticized  Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo for appointing GOP freshman House members to only one committee assignment. Typically lawmakers serve on at least two committees.

“There is no desire to work across the aisle and there’s no desire to show decency and respect to all members of this body who represent all Kentuckians,” Hoover said during speech from the House floor.

Hoover claimed that assigning House members to one just one committee was “unheard of.” He also highlighted dismissing Rep. Jonathan Shell, a second-term Republican from Lancaster, from the agriculture committee as emblematic of Democratic leadership’s political maneuvering. He closed by saying Speaker Stumbo’s tactics were all about “gamesmanship” and “pettiness.”

Fast-Passing Senate

Earlier in the week, state Senate Democrats accused Republican leadership of ramming legislation through. The Senate passed two high-priority bills on Thursday: a bill that would remove the requirement for public education construction projects to pay a prevailing wage, and a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound before the procedure.

Democrats objected to the votes, saying that Senate rules require legislators to hear bills on three separate days. Both bills had been voted out of committee earlier on Thursday.

Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones II, a Democrat from Pikeville, attempted to stop several of the votes and threatened to thwart Republicans for the rest of session.

“I can assure the Republican caucus that we will object to every single motion to give a bill a reading for the rest of this session," Jones said.

Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said that Democrats had ample time to consider to the bills.

LRC Director (Non-)Search

The week started off the leaders of both chambers saying that they would move to hire a new director of the troubled Legislative Research Commission. The agency has had an interim director since the previous director stepped down in September 2013 amid allegations of sexual harassment in the Statehouse.

A draft performance audit of the LRC was recently released to the public.

However, during a meeting of the House and Senate leadership that administer the LRC, the group voted along party lines—eight Democrats in favor of hiring a new director, eight Republicans in favor of waiting.

In interviews following the meeting, Stumbo and Republican Senate President Robert Stivers accused one another of keeping the process from going forward.

The previous LRC director, Robert Sherman had been accused of not doing enough to deal with sexual harassment within the LRC after allegations that former Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, had sexually harassed three LRC staffers.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.