- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo smiled to himself as he spied some buzzards circling the Capitol dome when he left the building on Thursday.

“It was a clear sign that they are waiting on the Senate agenda to arrive in the House,” he said.

After a grueling election, lawmakers from both sides have made public pleas for bipartisanship to pass important legislation to combat the state’s rise in heroin overdose deaths, give local governments a way to replace their aging and roads and bridges and protect women in abusive dating relationships.

That spirit of cooperation appears to have not survived the first week of the 2015 legislative session. The Republican-controlled state Senate has already approved four bills, including measures that would make it illegal for companies to force their employees to join labor unions and would require women to have a face to face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before having an abortion.

Both of those bills likely won’t even get a hearing in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

Likewise, proposals from some House Democrats’ that would raise the minimum wage and legalize medical marijuana could have a tough time in the Senate.

And even bills that both sides agree on could be in danger given the precarious politics of the 2015 governor’s race. The Senate unanimously passed an anti-heroin bill on Thursday that includes everything Beshear asked for in his State of the Commonwealth address. But its sponsored by State Sen. Chris McDaniel, the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate James Comer.

House Democrats have said they plan to write their own heroin bill, one that Stumbo said would likely include a needle exchange program to prevent disease among drug users. Some Senate Republicans think that could derail the bill in a legislative session limited to 30 working days.

A similar bill did not pass last year. House Democrats blame Republicans for running-out-the-clock on the session’s final day so the House could not pass the bill. Republican Senate President Robert Stivers blamed House Democrats for waiting until the last minute to bring it up for a vote.

“We waited a whole year, and how many people have either been incarcerated, have gone to rehab but even worse have died for the lack and failure to take this up in the other chamber,” Stivers said.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have been critical of Stivers’ for changing the chamber’s seating arrangement. Where Republicans and Democrats once mingled throughout the chamber, Republicans now sit as a group on the right side while Democrats are on the left. Senate Democratic Caucus chairman Gerald Neal said the old seating arrangement helped lawmakers from opposing parties develop relationships so they can “cross the line” and work together.

“This precludes it largely, so I think it’s counterproductive,” he said.

Stivers called it a more “professional style arrangement now that we have a more professional style legislature.” He said Senators from both parties held a joint dinner this week to get to know one another and said he did not think the new seating arrangement would hurt their ability to work together.

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