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Split Decision on Snow Days Monopolizes Senate

Kentucky Senate partisans swapped attacks and accusations on Friday over the decision to convene at the end of a weather-weary week.

Mother Nature is partly to blame as record snowfalls and sub-zero temperatures prompted a state of emergency and widespread closures. Winter’s wrath also kept the entire General Assembly from convening through mid-week. Discord between the two chambers arose when House leaders decided to take Thursday and Friday off but Senate GOP leaders disagreed, unilaterally opting to work those days. That action knocked two days off the short session for bicameral bill passing.

Shortly after the Senate convened Friday morning, President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) answered critics of his decision to meet without the House. He rebutted those who questioned whether he miscalculated risks or played politics.

Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones (D-Pikeville) referenced the arctic-like cold and a weather-related traffic fatality in Washington County as evidence that the decision to reconvene was reckless. He also cited GOP tweets praising folks who were working as proof the decision was politically motivated.

The speech by Jones struck a nerve with longtime Sen. Dan Seum (R-Louisville), who has risen through the ranks to become the majority caucus chair. He started as a Democrat and switched parties to help give Republicans control of the chamber at the turn of the millennium. Seum said he did not miss a roll call vote on the floor for 27 years, and it took something worse than weather to break that record.

After about 30 minutes of bitter and sometimes personal recriminations, Minority Caucus Chair Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) rose to turn down the heat and appealed to his colleagues to do the people’s business.

The Senate quickly rebounded from the squabble to pass several pieces of legislation. Both chambers are scheduled to meet today at 4 p.m.

“Cooling Off Period” for Domestic Violence Perpetrators

Sen. Chris Girdler (R-Somerset), a self-professed advocate for limited government and individual liberties, said the core function of government is public safety and protection. As such Girdler said his Senate Bill 137 provides another tool to help victims of domestic violence.

Under the measure, people accused of domestic violence would be required to stay behind bars for at least 12 hours if a judge determines they pose a threat to the victim or a family member. The “cooling off period” would apply to any assault charge, sexual offense, or protective order violation. The Senate Judiciary Committee deliberated Girdler’s bill Friday afternoon.

Enrie Lewis, the legislative agent for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said SB 137 restricts the constitutional right of presumption of innocence that bail assures. Lewis added that the threat level assumption is also flawed in mandating a 12-hour hold.

Despite those objections and others raised from lawmakers on the judiciary panel, SB 137 was approved and is ready for placement on the full Senate docket.

Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.