Politics

A special committee in the state House of Representatives will investigate whether Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover sexually harassed a former staffer.

The committee was formed under a recently-created rule after eight GOP lawmakers filed a complaint against Hoover on Wednesday.

The complaint alleges that Hoover broke the law and “irreparably damaged” the reputation of the state House of Representatives by allegedly sexually harassing a staffer and trying to cover it up.

Rep. Phil Moffett, a Republican from Louisville who filed the complaint, said he hopes the committee leads to the expulsion of Hoover from the House.

“The people of this state expect us to have higher standards than even the corporate world has and those standards have been breached and we need to be the adults in the room and do the right thing,” Moffett said.

Courier Journal first published a report that revealed Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers confidentially settled a sexual harassment complaint filed by a former House GOP staffer for an unknown amount of money.

The other lawmakers are Reps. Brian Linder, Michael Meredith and Jim DeCesare. All three have denied the allegations and been removed from committee chairmanships.

Hoover admitted to exchanging inappropriate text messages with the woman but denied sexually harassing her.

In November, he announced he would resign his leadership position but on Monday issued a statement saying he would only temporarily relinquish the speakership while the Legislative Ethics Commission conducts an investigation into the matter.

That investigation is ongoing.

On Wednesday, Moffett and 7 other Republican lawmakers filed a complaint against Hoover under a new rule that triggers a bipartisan investigative committee.

House Democrats have appointed Reps. Sannie Overly, Chris Harris and Joni Jenkins to the committee.

House Republicans have tapped Reps. Donna Mayfield, Diane St. Onge and Jason Petrie to the committee. State Government Committee Chairman Jerry Miller, a Republican from Louisville, will chair and break any ties on the panel, per the new rule.

It’s still unclear whether the committee will have the power to subpoena records and compel testimony from witnesses.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, who is presiding over the House in Hoover’s absence, said “the rules were being worked on to ensure how to do that.”

Osborne referred all questions about the investigative committee to Rep. Jerry Miller. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

A preliminary investigation conducted by a law firm hired by House Republicans said that Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers had settled the complaint using funds provided by family members and loans from local banks.

That report encouraged the Legislative Ethics Commission to verify the identity of the lenders to ensure the settlement hadn’t been paid for by “any improper source.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville, demanded that the committee’s findings be released to the public.

“I think the people of Kentucky need to know how much was paid, did taxpayers foot this bill, did the benefactor pay it, did the majority party pay it, how much was paid?” Marzian asked.

In 2015, the state’s Legislative Research Commission paid $400,000 to two women who sued former Democratic Rep. John Arnold of harassment. That suit also alleged former LRC director Bobby Sherman didn’t do enough to address sexual harassment of staffers in the state agency.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.