FRANKFORT, Kentucky — Some of the last-minute compromises forged in the final hours of Kentucky's frenzied legislative session took shape in a Ford Edge speeding along the Western Kentucky Parkway.
There, two political rivals who share a hometown but not much else forged a friendship that allowed the two men to work out differences on a pair of high profile bills fraught with political pitfalls.
Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield and Democratic Rep. John Tilley, the chairman of their respective judiciary committees, live about a half-mile from each other in Hopkinsville, a small town near the Tennessee border in western Kentucky. They often carpool with each other to Frankfort to save money on gas, forcing them to talk about bills designed to reduce heroin overdose deaths and to protect the victims of abusive dating relationships.
Both bills passed and were enrolled on the final day of a legislative session that had been in danger of imploding in a pile of partisan rhetoric on the eve of a high-stakes race for governor. Making the story more remarkable is that Westerfield, a former prosecutor, is running for attorney general against the son of Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, giving Democrats all the reason in the world not to work with him.
"We're up front about the politics we know that actually sometimes dictates the decisions that we have to make," Tilley said. "I don't think I'd be here today if we weren't able to have some of those long conversations on that 3 ½-hour drive to and from our hometown."
Many lawmakers worked on the heroin bill, including Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel who wrote the first draft that passed in January and state Rep. Denver Butler, a former police officer. But when Beshear signed the heroin bill Wednesday morning just a few hours after it passed on the final day of the legislative session, he singled out Tilley and Westerfield who "helped lead the charge."
The law contains an emergency clause, meaning it took effect the moment Beshear signed it. That means firefighters, police officers and other public safety officials can begin giving Naloxone to heroin overdose victims, and heroin users can dial 911 to report an overdose without fear of being arrested for doing drugs in the first place.
The dating violence law takes effect in July. With it, Kentucky will become the last state in the country to offer civil protections to victims of abusive dating relationships. Right now, Kentucky only allows victims of abusive relationships to get an emergency protective order from a judge if the victim is married to, lives with or has a child with the assailant.
Westerfield acknowledged Wednesday there were a number of times he thought the bills would die. And while most of the negotiations on the final version of the bills took place in private meetings, Westerfield said a public hearing on the House version won over skeptical Republicans about a needle exchange program, which had been a key obstacle to reaching a compromise.
"When we ran into an obstacle, when we had a disagreement, we didn't quit," Westerfield said. "We didn't want to get up and walk away from the table because we knew what could be accomplished."