Legislative issues and scandal in Ky.

Published 11:38 am Monday, January 15, 2018

Drama is distracting.

And, right now, there is plenty of drama boiling in the Kentucky House of Representatives, thanks to the ongoing controversies swirling around, and fueled by, former speaker Jeff Hoover, who acknowledged last fall that he and three other House Republicans had secretly settled a claim with a legislative staffer who had alleged sexual harassment.

Hoover stepped down from his job as speaker Monday in a long, emotional speech that took a host of enemies to task, including the governor of his own party. He continued Tuesday, proposing sanctions against lawmakers who unsuccessfully attempt to have other members removed from office.

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None of this, though, will bring any clarity to the muddle surrounding how sexual-harassment complaints are handled by the General Assembly. We are doomed to suffer this kind of extended, distracting drama again in the future unless the General Assembly acts to create a clear path for all complaints to be registered and investigated in a timely, consistent and professional fashion.

So far in the Hoover saga, three investigations have been launched: the first when the Republican House leadership hired a Louisville law firm for $50,000 to investigate; the second when, after the law firm produced little illumination, House Republican leaders asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate; and the third a special, bipartisan committee formed this month by the House to investigate the charges.

Legislative leadership appears to have taken action to correct a system that had made it harder for politically appointed legislative staff to register complaints than for non-partisan staff. Legislative Research Commission Director David Byerman said that late last year partisan staff was informed they could use the procedures established for non-partisan staff in 2016 to register grievances. That process was put into place after the last sexual-harassment scandal, involving Democratic Rep. John Arnold.

The Herald-Leader’s Daniel Desrochers reported in November that the process for partisan employees varied according to the policies of each office’s party leadership. Under the new policy, partisan staff will be able to take their complaints to the LRC’s non-partisan assistant director of human resources or the LRC director, bypassing those who hired them or are in their direct line of supervision.

That’s a significant improvement, but reform cannot stop there. Legislators, particularly those in leadership need to be told, and reminded repeatedly, that there’s no such thing as a consensual relationship with someone whose career they control — not even a non-physical flirtation conducted through text messages.

Both time and money would have been saved if the investigation of Hoover had been handed to the Legislative Ethics Commission when the story of the harassment settlement first arose last fall. Instead, after over two months, there are tons of questions, few answers and lots of drama, distracting the General Assembly from the hard work of writing a difficult budget for the next two years.

Lexington Herald-Leader