Politics

Republican leaders in Kentucky’s House of Representatives have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to investigate a secret sexual harassment settlement made between GOP lawmakers and a former staffer.

The development comes after House Republicans received a preliminary investigation from a Louisville law firm that said the commission should subpoena for information dealing with the allegations and settlement.

A statement from House Speaker Pro-Tem David Osborne said the ethics commission should “subpoena anyone and any document they need to complete the work.”

“To be clear, I am not personally alleging any violations of Kentucky law or ethics rules, but am simply formalizing the hand off of this matter in the manner prescribed to me by the Director of the Legislative Ethics Commission,” Osborne said in a statement.

Last month, the Courier-Journal first reported that then-House Speaker Jeff Hoover settled a sexual harassment complaint made by a former staffer.

Hoover admitted to exchanging sexually-charged text messages and stepped down from his leadership position, but denied sexually harassing the woman.

Three other Republican lawmakers have also been implicated in the scandal and signed the settlement, though their roles are still unclear — Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green.

The preliminary investigation into the scandal conducted by Middleton Reutlinger provided few new details into the allegations. The law firm said it was unable to obtain a copy of the settlement and two key players refused to be interviewed — the former staffer who filed the complaint and one current staffer.

The report said that there was no evidence that the settlement had been made with “public funds or inappropriate monies,” but called on the ethics commission to confirm.

Rather, it said settlement funds had been provided by the accused and their family members with the help of loans by their local banks.

“The identity of these lenders and the absence of any improper source should be confirmed by the Legislative Ethics Commission or other authority with subpoena power,” the report stated.

The report also included an assessment of the workplace dynamics in the speaker’s office, which it said had divisions based on “political factions” and “personality issues.”

House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins released a statement approving Republicans’ decision to file the complaint.

“We have said all along that this investigation needs to be independent and objective to get to the truth of these allegations and should be conducted by an organization like the Legislative Ethics Commission, a process that I want to note Rep. Jim Wayne first initiated,” Adkins said.

“I am pleased to see the House Republican leaders now agree with that approach as well.  The House Democratic Caucus also supports any effort that strengthens zero-tolerance policies regarding workplace harassment.”

Last month, the FBI confirmed that it was looking into sexual harassment and retaliation claims in the Kentucky legislature.

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