The state Legislative Research Commission is arguing that none of its members can be sued in an ongoing harassment case due to a state law that permits immunity to lawmakers.
The LRC’s governing body is made up of 16 legislative leaders from the House and Senate.
The case stems from allegations by female state House staffers who alleged they were sexually harassed and assaulted by former state Rep. John Arnold. Leslie Vose is a private attorney hired by the LRC.
“The legislature, the Senate and the House are immune from being sued for violation of state and federal Civil Rights law. It’s a clear, black-letter law, and we’ve asked the court to address it before we go further.”
Vose says that the matter has already been appropriately settled by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, which found Arnold guilty of three counts of harassment and fined him $3,000.
By law, the only piece of legislation that the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly had to pass was a two-year state budget.
All else, as Will Rogers put it, is applesauce.
And with a session that began with a bang and ended with a whimper, it's what happened in between that House Speaker Greg Stumbo says lawmakers should be "proud" of.
Specifically, that they passed a compromised version of Gov. Steve Beshear's $20.3 billion state budget. House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, however, took to the editorial page of The Courier-Journal to vent about what he dubbed a "lackluster" session.
But the truth probably lies somewhere between the extremes of "proud" and "lackluster."
Many political observers noted a reluctance among lawmakers to tackle controversial measures—chief among them tax reform—because of the impending November elections that will prove as a test for House Democrats to retain their slim eight-seat majority.
Here's a look at the winners, losers and downright lost causes of the 2014 General Assembly.
The coal industry—A slate of coal-friendly bills easily cleared the legislature, including one that allows coal-fired power plants in the state to regulate their own carbon emission standards at lower-than-federal-levels. Lawmakers also approved a bill that provides a new round of tax incentives for coal and coal-related industries to subsidize their purchase of new equipment.
A Kentucky Representative says if a special legislative session is called for later this year, ethics reform should be on the agenda.
During the session, Rep. Joni Jenkins filed an amendment to an unrelated bill that would reconfigure the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, which has come under fire after it found former lawmaker John Arnold not guilty of sexual harassment charges. But the Senate didn’t take up that bill.
Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat, is disappointed, but she plans to take up the issue as a bill next year, or, if Gov. Steve Beshear calls for a special session, she’ll advocate to have it included on the agenda.
“You know, you hate to spend all that money. I would hope that perhaps if he called a special session on some other issues that they’re talking about, perhaps he would think about including this,” said Jenkins.
The two female statehouse employees who previously accused Kentucky Rep. John Arnold of sexually harassing them say another Democratic lawmaker acted inappropriately, this time on an out-of-state trip conducting official legislative business.
Legislative Research Commission employees Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner allege that Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, threw a pair of women's underwear onto a dining table at a restaurant during the Southern Legislative Conference held in Mobile, Alabama last year.
In an interview with Kentucky Public Radio, Gooch didn't deny the allegations, and admitted to possibly brandishing a woman's "personal item" in front of LRC employees during a meal.
Legislation that would make sexual harassment training mandatory for state lawmakers is on its way to the governor’s desk.
When formal ethics charges were filed against former Rep. John Arnold accusing him of sexually harassing three women working in the state legislature, lawmakers were up in arms about addressing the issue of workplace harassment in the Capitol.
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission found Arnold not guilty of the harassment charges this week, prompting critics to question if anything could be done.
But an amended bill filed by Greenville Rep. Brent Yonts would address those issues by making sexual harassment training mandatory for state lawmakers. Currently, lawmakers do not have to take such training.
The bill currently awaits Gov. Steve Beshear’s signature.
A state ethics trial involving former Rep. John Arnold has been delayed again.
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission ordered that the sexual harassment trial against Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, be postponed.
Arnold’s lawyer, Bowling Green attorney Steve Downey, says that he is still awaiting diagnoses from several doctors on whether Arnold, who may have suffered a series of minor strokes, is mentally competent to stand trial.
“His mental and cognitive status is very pertinent to the charges against him. Despite his doctors’ best efforts, a definitive diagnosis has not been reached,” said Downey. “Without this proof, this matter is not ready for a hearing, and John’s health is so poor that it is doubtful he will participate in that hearing.”
Arnold was accused of sexual assault and harassment last August by female employees of the state Legislative Research Commission.
He has denied the charges.
Thomas Clay, the Louisville attorney representing Arnold’s accusers, calls the continuance a delay tactic, and says the women are cynical about the state’s ability to investigate the matter.
The ethics commission is expected to announce a new hearing date in the next few days.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo is invoking the state constitution as his reason for not appearing at next week’s legislative ethics hearing looking into sexual harassment allegations against former State Representative John Arnold.
Stumbo received a subpoena from Arnold’s lawyer, but says the constitution exempts him from appearing while the General Assembly is in session. Stumbo also tells the Lexington Herald-Leader that he has no knowledge of the complaints against Arnold, other than what he’s read in the news media.
Arnold, who resigned last September, continues to deny allegations that he sexually harassed female LRC staffers.
After nearly four months of meetings and without interviewing a single witness or examining any evidence, the special House committee tasked with investigating claims of sexual harassment against a former state lawmaker voted Thursday afternoon to end its operations.
This summer, female staffers with the Legislative Research Commission say former Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, sexually harassed and assaulted them.
Democratic committee chair Jeff Donohue of Louisville made the motion to disband the panel. He cited an opinion drafted by legal counsel that said lawmakers could not discipline Arnold because he resigned in September.
“Despite the committee’s lack of jurisdiction and as a member of the House of Representatives, I’d like to work with my colleagues to develop stronger policies and laws to prevent sexual harassment. And that is what I plan to do. And I thank you all for your time today.”
Donohue says he doesn't know how much the committee has cost taxpayers.
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo doesn't think this week's Republican victory in a special election is a sign of waning Democratic power in the chamber.
Republican Suzanne Miles bested Democratic challenger Kim Humphrey by about a hundred votes in a special election to fill a vacancy in West Kentucky’s 7th District.
Miles’ victory erodes Democrats’ majority in the House down to 54 seats against the Republicans’ 46. And Stumbo says he doesn’t think any House Democrats will change parties to curry favor with a potential GOP majority.
“We might have a Republican or two that flips, but I don’t think you’re gonna see any Democrats that do it … And we congratulate Ms. Miles and look forward to serving with her. It’s [sic] a close race, hundred votes or so … and I expect that, I expect that, I don’t think there’ll be any changes either way.”
The seventh district seat opened up after Democratic Rep. John Arnold resigned during a growing sexual harassment scandal. Arnold won re-election in 2012 by just five votes.
The Legislative Research Commission has a $115,000 contract with a Lexington law firm to offer legal guidance in a sexual harassment investigation and to help defend the state in a pending lawsuit.
Lawmakers unveiled and approved the contract with Landrum & Shouse on Tuesday. The contract runs through June 30, 2014.
The firm will advise legislative leaders in a continuing investigation into allegations that former Democratic state Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis sexually harassed three legislative staffers. That committee could ultimately recommend Arnold be reprimanded or fined.
Arnold resigned from the Legislature after the allegations were made public.
The legislative staffers involved later filed a lawsuit claiming their supervisors didn't protect them from sexual harassment even after they reported it.