Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 8, 2014

Members struggle to get to Statehouse

House, Senate barely have enough bodies to make quorum.

By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
Kokomo Tribune

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers slid into the postponed opening day of the 2014 session – some literally — as the polar freeze held its brutal grip on much of the state Tuesday.

Both the House and Senate barely made the numbers needed to conduct business, with many legislators struggling to navigate the state’s snow-packed roads that were 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 that begin this week.

The House hit its quorum of 67 members, out of 100, after pushing back Monday’s scheduled start until Tuesday afternoon. The Senate also got a late start, delayed more than an hour by late-arriving lawmakers who had underestimated travel time on highways that remained treacherous following Sunday’s near-record snowfalls.

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

It was a bigger job for some than others. State Rep. Steve Stemler (D-Jeffersonville) left his home in southwest Indiana Monday evening, creeping along Interstate 65 at about 20 miles an hour before state police shut down a major portion of the freeway that was 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 said he felt fortunate. On Tuesday morning, when he was leaving his Indianapolis hotel to head to the Statehouse, he ran into some Kansas City Chiefs football fans who’d been stuck in the city since Saturday’s post-season loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Hundreds of flights have been canceled or delayed at the Indianapolis airport since the brutal winter storm arrived.

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

There were other lawmakers who were early arrivals. State Sen. Ron Grooms, also of Jeffersonville, left his house Saturday after hearing of 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 of the lawmakers who didn’t make it are from Northwest Indiana, which was hit by a triple-whammy of weather: A 14-inch snowfall Sunday, a plunge to sub-zero temperatures Monday, and a forecast for more snow Wednesday.

While the wild winter weather delayed the session’s start, it didn’t deter opponents of one the hottest issues to come: The same-sex marriage ban amendment, which lawmakers may vote on early in the session. 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 the state’s current same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution.

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