Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky legislature again declined to pass a bill explicitly banning lawmakers from sexually harassing their employees during this year’s legislative session.

The legislature’s ethics rules don’t currently ban sexual harassment, though lawmakers have been punished for harassing employees under a rule that bans misuse of their official positions.

House Bill 168, sponsored by Taylor Mill Republican Rep. Kim Moser, would have defined sexual harassment as an ethical violation and created a process for the Legislative Ethics Commission to review sexual harassment complaints.

The measure unanimously passed out of the state House of Representatives but failed to get a hearing in the Senate. Similar bills passed the House but stalled in the Senate in 2018 and 2019.

Moser said she was frustrated that the bill didn’t get taken up by her colleagues in the other chamber.

“It was disappointing that I couldn’t get a whole lot of feedback on the Senate side in terms of what the problems were and why there were problems,” Moser said.

The Senate passed its own ethics bill sponsored by the chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, Wil Schroder, who declined to give Moser’s bill a hearing this year.

Senate Bill 157 was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear on April 24. It mostly deals with executive branch ethics—requiring executive branch lobbyists to report compensation they receive from their clients. But it also includes parts of House Bill 168, just not the parts dealing with sexual harassment.

In an email, Schroder did not go into detail about why that happened.

“While it passed the House, there were some Senate members who had questions regarding the new definitions contained in the bill and were not comfortable handling that section this session,” Schroder wrote.

Parts of Moser’s bill that ended up in Senate Bill 157 include allowing ethics complaints to be filed against lawmakers for up to one year after they leave office, reducing legislators’ sexual harassment prevention training from three hours to two and allowing the ethics commission to dismiss complaints by teleconference meetings.

Schroder wrote that he expected discarded parts of Moser’s bill to be revisited before the legislature reconvenes in January.

Moser called Schroder’s bill a “step in the right direction,” but didn’t understand why defining sexual harassment wasn’t a critical part of it.

“Any legislative ethics reform is a good thing. I think the more we talk about it, the better that we all are as employees and as employers,” Moser said.

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in the statehouse. In 2017, a former staffer accused House Speaker Jeff Hoover of groping and harassing her and said three other Republican lawmakers of making sexual comments to her.

In a settlement with the Legislative Ethics Commission, Hoover admitted to only exchanging sexually charged text messages with the staffer. He was fined $1,000. Complaints against the other lawmakers were dismissed.

In 2013, two staffers alleged that Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Union repeatedly touched them inappropriately and made lewd comments over several years. The commission fined Arnold $1,000 and he resigned.

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