Panel investigating John Arnold moves forward with House cleaning effort

09/17/2013 09:00 AM

UPDATED WITH VIDEO: The state House panel called to investigate and potentially punish John Arnold in the wake of allegations that he sexually harassed legislative staffers will move forward even after Arnold’s resignation, the committee decided Tuesday.

The five lawmakers — three Democrats and two Republicans — organized themselves, electing a former union negotiator, Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Louisville, as its chairman and setting its next meeting for 1 p.m. Oct. 9 to review resumes for an outside lawyer. While the members of the committee all said the investigation should not be partisan, the first two votes went down party lines with the Democrats selecting Donohue as the committee’s chairman and rejecting a proposal by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, to require a super-majority of four votes for any action or recommendation.

Much of the first meeting was spent discussing the purpose and the ability of the committee to move forward after Arnold resigned Friday from the General Assembly and the 7th state House District he had filled since 1995. Arnold’s resignation was officially filed with the House clerk Monday.

“The conduct that is in question here was conduct that occurred while he was a member here,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo told the panel as he made the case for it to move forward after the investigation.

Most of the members of the committee agreed that it was in the panel’s power to continue to investigate even though the statute that allowed for the committee’s creation specifically calls for action against a sitting member of the General Assembly.

“I don’t believe this is an overreach,” said Rep. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said the committee could still weigh the evidence and hear testimony to write a report about the conduct. And he said that report could tell the House that the committee would have recommended expulsion had Arnold not stepped down. But he also said the committee could recommend a fine covering the costs of the investigation the committee conducts.

All those recommendations would have to be approved by the full House, he added. And Benvenuti said the entire process is necessary “to ensure the integrity of the House.”

Stumbo called for the creation of the panel when he filed paperwork Aug. 29 to being the process for censure or expulsion of Arnold. Two staff members brought forward allegations to legislative leaders in February and filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission in August in which they accused Arnold of inappropriately touching them and making inappropriate comments to them. A third staff member later came forward.

Only twice in Kentucky’s history has the General Assembly begun an impeachment or expulsion process against an official. And never before has it started a process against a resigned member.

“There’s not a lot of precedent, moving forward,” Stumbo said.

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