The shadow of sexual harassment darkens Day 1 proceedings in the House

01/07/2014 01:00 PM

The opening session of the Kentucky House of Representatives began with the swearing in of its newest member, Rep. Suzanne Miles of Owensboro, and wrapped up with a fiery debate over the disbanding of a committee called to investigate Miles’ predecessor.

At least on the first day of the 2014 General Assembly, the sexual harassment allegations against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold continued to overshadow the legislative proceedings. The session essentially picked up where the special session left off when WFPL first broke the story about the allegations facing Arnold.

Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Louisville, chaired the five-member committee House Speaker Greg Stumbo called in late August to investigate Arnold before he resigned. Donohue explained in a brief statement he read on the House floor why the three Democrats on the panel voted last month to end the committee’s work without issuing a report – because the lawyer for the panel advised the members that it was powerless to expel or censure once Arnold resigned from the legislature in September. The legislative staff members who brought the allegations have filed a suit against Arnold and the Legislative Research Commission that is pending in Franklin Circuit Court.

“Each and every member of the committee expressed a strong desire to see that action was taken,” Donohue said.

The two Republicans on the committee followed Donohue with speeches calling the committee’s work a missed opportunity for the House to police itself.

“I am greatly disappointed that we did not demonstrate to the citizens of the commonwealth that we are willing to be held to the same standards that by the laws we pass out of this very chamber hold them accountable for their actions,” said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington.

Benvenuti and Rep. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, both said they believed the committee had the authority to investigate even after Arnold’s resignation. And Adams called for a new committee to take up the issue. Both received applause from Republican members of the House when they finished their speeches.

But the loudest applause from Democrats came after Democratic Rep. Arnold Simpson of Covington gave an impassioned speech essentially urging the chamber to move on.

“No one is proud of the actions of the former member from Union (County),” Simpson said. “As we begin this session, there is a multitude of issues that beg our attention.”

He listed several: five years without buying next books, economic suffering in Eastern Kentucky, the prospect of tolls on a proposed bridge in Northern Kentucky (which Simpson vehemently opposes) and trying to reverse cuts to child care stipends for low income families.

“These are the large issues, Mr. Speaker. Those are the issues we should devote our attention to,” Simpson said.

And so it begins.

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