Former female House members say 'culture of good ol' boys' in the House must change

08/26/2013 10:25 AM

UPDATED: Beyond investigating specific allegations of sexual harassment against Democratic Rep. John Arnold, the General Assembly must look into whether a “good-ol’-boy” culture allowed the inappropriate behavior to go on.

If the allegations are true it would be “a huge black eye for this General Assembly” and specifically House Democratic leaders, said Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington.

Stein and Senate President Pro Tem Katie Stine, R-Southgate, both served in the House before being elected to the upper chamber. Stine has been in the Senate since 1999 after serving two terms in the House. Stein has been in the Senate since 2009 after winning a 2008 special election. Before that she served since 1997 in the House, which she said has had a “sad culture of good-ol’-boyism” that she and other women tried to address.

“It’s unfortunate that sometimes when you think that you’re making progress on an issue, you get to a point and then there’s backsliding,” Stein said. “It’s kind of like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill.”

Stine said the allegations brought by legislative staffers against Arnold need to go through the “due process.” But she said equally as troubling as the specific allegations of inappropriate touching and comments is the perception that House leaders didn’t do enough to step and protect those staff members.

House Democratic leaders have said they immediately took the matter seriously when the issue was raised in February. But its unclear what action they took because none of them would talk about specifics because it is a personnel matter that remains confidential.

UPDATED: The House Speaker’s office released emails showing that as of May, House Democratic leaders moved to connect the staff members who had complained with a counselor to help “mediate” the situation.

“It is the Speaker’s understanding that this process was successful, and in fact that the parties were satisfied with the efforts of the counselor as recently as the week before the Special Session,” said the statement from House Speaker Greg Stumbo’s spokesman. “The Speaker will defer to the LRC Director and the expert for any further information.”

Stine said she hopes the Legislative Ethics Commission investigation doesn’t find that leaders failed to properly address the complaints.

“It’s bad enough for these victims — alleged victims — to have to endure that but to have their pleas go unanswered or have a blind eye turned to this, should never occurred,” Stine said.

Both Stine and Stein agreed that sexual harassment training for lawmakers to be told what’s not appropriate shouldn’t be necessary in the 21st century, but that if education might help, they’d support it. And both said they’d like to see a policy in the Legislative Research Commission personnel guidelines that specifically forbids relationships between lawmakers and staff members who work for them.


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