Procedural rule battle highlights opening day for House with Democrats a vote shy of constitutional majority

01/05/2016 08:06 PM

FRANKFORT — House Democrats, down to a bare 50-member majority, leaned on the Kentucky Constitution rather than put procedural rules up to a vote in the first day of the legislative session on Tuesday.

House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, still bristling after Democratic leaders left freshman members of his caucus just one committee assignment last year, called the maneuver “not a good way to start this session” after unsuccessfully challenging the resolution.

“All we ask for, simply, was for (House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins) and other members of leadership to sit down with us, (House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly), invited to attend and participate and sit down with us and talk about this and come to a resolution so that we do have a more fair process, so that we do have proportionate representation on committees, which has been lacking in the past year,” Hoover, R-Jamestown, said in a floor speech.

“And we couldn’t even get that.”

The exchange highlighted a rocky start to a session in which Democrats may lose their grip on the chamber for the first time in nearly a century, depending on the outcome of four special elections in March and the fall’s election cycle.

Democrats currently hold a 50-46 majority in the state House — one vote shy of a constitutional majority needed to pass items like procedural rules.

Procedural rules have typically been adopted by voice vote in the first days of both even- and odd-year legislative sessions, but House Speaker Greg Stumbo sidestepped a potentially troublesome floor vote by finding that section 36 of the Kentucky Constitution stated that the initial period of odd-year sessions are reserved for organizational matters like adopting rules of procedure.

“It would be the ruling of the chair that the rules as they existed at the time that this body adjourned sine die following the 2015 session would remain into effect unless amended or adopted contrary to what those rules were at the time we adjourned sine die,” said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “So we do have rules in effect at this time.”

While Hoover cited Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure in his challenge, Adkins said the Kentucky Constitution trumps that rulebook.

The Morehead Democrat also expressed his caucus’ willingness to work with the minority party.

“I don’t see that we’re drawing the line in the sand here at all and trying to work in a partisan way at all,” Adkins said. “Now it may seem that way from (Hoover’s) comments that he’s made here today, but I don’t think anybody said that we wasn’t going to sit down this afternoon and try to work through the process.”

Adkins said the two sides spoke about working on a compromise during a break in Tuesday’s sessions as leaders debated Hoover’s challenge at Stumbo’s desk.

“There are many committees that are completely out of balance, completely out of balance,” he continued. “Matter of fact, there’s one committee that basically the minority party has the majority on one of those committees.”

Before the session began, Stumbo made clear his position on whether he could be thrown out of the speaker’s chair ahead of the next round of leadership elections in 2017.

A GOP sweep in the March special elections would put the chamber in a 50-50 tie with the fall election cycle in the horizon.

Stumbo said he and other legislative leaders mentioned in the state Constitution serve two-year terms.

“I would call that out of order,” Stumbo said of a potential challenge to his role as speaker.

Asked before gaveling in how a 50-50 split in the House would work, Stumbo said he didn’t know.

“I hope I don’t have to find out,” he said.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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