The allegations that a Kentucky state legislator sexually harassed and assaulted two statehouse staffers has led to an effort to impose required training onto lawmakers.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Democrat from Louisville, plans to introduce a measure in the House on Thursday that would include sexual harassment training in the mandatory ethics education that state legislators are required to undergo.
No such training is currently required, Marzian said.
“There’s no reason it should not be included for legislators,” she said. “We are not above the law. And we should obey the law.”
Her efforts follow allegations made in ethics complaints against state Rep. John A. Arnold Jr., a Democrat from Sturgis. WFPL reported Wednesday that two employees of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission had alleged that Arnold inappropriately touched them and made lewd and vulgar comments in numerous incidents dating back to 2010. Rep. Tom Riner, a Louisville Democrat, spoke Wednesday on the House floor about his concerns that the legislature had a culture of sexism and intimidation.
Marzian said Democratic legislative leaders should be held accountable if they were previously notified of allegations against Arnold. The women said they brought the allegations to members of the Legislative Research Commission, high-ranking Democratic representatives and others.
Marzian said she has no reason to disbelieve the allegations brought by the two LRC employees—Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner.
“They have always been outstanding employees and very professional [and] they have not given me a reason not to believe them,” Marzian said.
In a statement, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said that his chamber “has zero tolerance for harassment of any nature.”
“Procedures exist for promptly addressing such allegations in order to protect the rights of all involved individuals,” Stumbo said in the statement. “All staff concerns were relayed to the executive director of LRC. These procedures are confidential and operate independently of members or Leadership.”
Stumbo told reporters that he had no “direct knowledge” of the allegations.
Democratic Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly did not return messages left at her office seeking comment.
Senate President Stivers said the investigation against Arnold should go forward and expressed sympathy for the women.
“If there is or has been any attempt to dissuade, harass or affect the investigation from going forward, then we want to know about it,” said Stivers, speaking with reporters on the Senate floor after Wednesday’s adjournment. “And if it is an LRC employee, it will be my position…that that person should be fired upon showing that they did something.”
Stivers, a Republican, said he would seek to impose sanctions on legislators who have been proven to have impeded, harassed or intimidated these women.
House Republican Floor Leader Rep. Jeff Hoover applauded Riner’s “courage” in giving the floor speech.
“These allegations are very troubling, and if proven to be true then there needs to be immediate and swift repercussions,” he said.
Hoover said he could not think of any specific instances of sexual harassment during his tenure in the House, but identified what he called “a culture of good old boys protecting each other and sweeping things under the rug and maybe covering things up.”