News and Tribune

January 7, 2014

POLITICAL SNOWFALL: Arctic blast stymies opening of 2014 General Assembly

House, Senate barely make numbers to begin opening session

NEWS AND TRIBUNE
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Lawmakers slid into the opening day of the 2014 session — some literally — as a polar freeze held its brutal grip on much of the state Tuesday.

The House and Senate barely made the numbers needed to conduct business for an opening that already had been postponed a day, with many legislators still struggling to navigate snow-packed roads made worse by sub-zero temperatures. Their business was brief — just long enough for leaders to formally hand down some bills scheduled for committee hearings this week.

The House hit its quorum of 67 members, out of 100. The Senate also got a late start Tuesday, delayed more than an hour by lawmakers who’d underestimated travel time on highways that remained treacherous following near-record snow on Sunday.

“I know it was a job for you to get here,” House Speaker Brian Bosma told members who’d arrived on time, many of them clad in snow boots and multiple layers of clothes.

It was bigger job for some more than others.

State Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, left home in Southern Indiana Monday evening then crept along Interstate 65 at about 20 mph before he was stymied by a State Police shutdown of a major portion of the highway covered in ice and drifting snow.

“It was just littered with cars that had slid off the road,” Stemler said. “I’ve got pictures on my cell phone of jackknifed semis up and down the highway. The state police were out there doing an incredible job rescuing people.”

Stemler felt fortunate. On Tuesday morning, when he was leaving his Indianapolis hotel to head to the Statehouse, he ran into some Kansas City Chiefs fans who’d been stuck in the city since seeing their team lose to the Colts on Saturday. Hundreds of flights were been canceled or delayed at the Indianapolis airport.

“They seemed okay, given what the Colts did to the Chiefs,” Stemler said.

Other lawmakers arrived early. State Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, left his house Saturday after hearing the winter storm warnings.

“It was 54 degrees when I left home,” Grooms said. “By the time I got to Columbus (an hour north) it was snowing.”

Many lawmakers who didn’t make Tuesday’s opening are from Northwest Indiana, an area hit by a triple-whammy — a 14-inch snowfall Sunday, a plunge to sub-zero temperatures Monday, with more snow forecast on Wednesday.

While the wild weather delayed legislators, it didn’t deter opponents of one the hottest issues to come — an amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Staff and volunteers with Freedom Indiana, a coalition of amendment opponents, delivered 6,000 letters to the General Assembly’s mailroom Tuesday, asking lawmakers to vote against the measure that would lock in the current ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution. Lawmakers may vote early in the session.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Statehouse have expressed support for the amendment. But Freedom Indiana spokeswoman Megan Robertson — a former GOP campaign manager — said lawmakers are persuadable.

“My experience with legislators is that they want to be good representatives of their constituents,” she said. “So if their constituents reach out to them, they’re going to listen to them.”

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden