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Kentucky State Senate Leaders Clash Over (Non-) Snow Days

Stivers
Senate President Robert Stivers, right

Cold weather widened the political divide between Republicans and Democrats at the Kentucky General Assembly this week.

Leadership in the Democrat-led state House decided to cancel all of its meeting on Thursday and Friday, but Republican state Senate leadership decided to come to work despite snow and frigid temperatures.

“We felt it necessary to go forward and move pieces of legislation--and we are,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester.

But Senate Minority Leader Sen. Ray Jones II, a Democrat from Pikeville, said the decision for the Senate to meet while the House didn’t was political, accusing Stivers of putting lawmakers' and staffers’ lives at risk.

"Common sense taught me that you don’t needlessly endanger the lives of other people for any reason," Jones said in a Senate floor speech on Friday. “You have to look no further than the social media stuff that was put out here criticizing the House Democrats when in fact it was a joint decision to cancel the session."

Tweets from the GOP Senate Twitter account started using the hashtag #HereAndWorking while House members were absent on Thursday and Friday.

Stivers gave several speeches on Friday morning, rebutting claims that he put lives at risk and saying he had no authority to tell staffers to stay at home, and that leadership had made an educated decision about the weather.

"Because I can tell you every one of the five Republican leaders were in my office, discussing this calling members in the state, talking to state police, getting weather reports and seeing what road conditions were," Stivers said.

In a statement earlier this weekm Jones said that the Senate wasted legislative days by meeting while the House didn’t, potentially jeopardizing important legislation that would need to be hammered out in the last days of the session like the heroin bill.

Stivers said the Senate would still be able to finalize the heroin bill with a short calendar.

“We’re going to try to move it quickly so it doesn’t sit there until the last minutes, the waning hours of the session,” Stivers said.

This year, the legislature meets for a total of 30 working days and the Senate used up the 14th and 15th days by meeting on Thursday and Friday.

In a statement earlier this week, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he didn’t expect to have to add days to the legislative calendar.

“We have more than enough time to complete the work before us,” Stumbo said.

The Senate held several committee meetings and passed bills on Thursday and Friday, including a bill that would redistrict the circuit court system and another to allow public school students to express religious and political views on campus.

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