A Republican lawmaker says Democrats abandoned Kentucky women during the special investigation of former state Rep. John Arnold’s alleged sexual harassment of a female legislator and two legislative staffers.
And if the GOP controlled the state House, he argues a probe of the Legislative Research Commission would have been handled more thoroughly.
“I would expect much better than was done by this committee,” says state Representative Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who served on that panel. “I can tell you this, if the Republicans had the majority of that committee we would have sent a letter out to every LRC employee, would we have reviewed any documents and interviewed anybody who was willing to be interviewed. And we would have hired a professional investigator to help in that process.”
As WFPL’s Jonathan Meador first reported, a civil suit filed in Franklin Circuit Court has made additional allegations against Arnold, who resigned in September. It claims that in addition to two staffers, Arnold inappropriately touched Democratic Caucus Chair Sannie Overly of Paris, who is the first women to hold the leadership position in Kentucky’s history.
These new accusations come days after a House committee looking into Arnold disbanded along a 3-2 party line vote.
“I think we know exactly what kind of message has been sent and that is if you’re the victim of sexual harassment in the General Assembly, don’t expect us to do anything about it, fend for yourself,” says Benvenuti.
“Think about if you’re a woman working for the General Assembly and you’ve seen this committee that just folded without doing any work. Would you be at all inclined to come forward with your complaint? Because you’ve already been shown how it’s going to be addressed. It’s going to be addressed by the General Assembly sticking its head in the sand.”
Asked if the latest revelations involving Overly change his perception of the Arnold investigation, Democratic state Rep. Jeff Donohue of Louisville, who chaired the special committee, said he hadn’t heard about the new accusations.
But he says House Democrats did all they could, but had to end the probe because they had no jurisdiction to discipline Arnold.
“I had no subpoena power or nothing. There are other entities that are going to be able to result that situation, but there’s nothing we can do. I’m a guy that sometimes makes difficult decisions, and it may be an unpopular decision but it’s the right decision,” says Donohue.
Proposed legislation in the upcoming sessions seeks to make sexual harassment training mandatory for lawmakers and establish comprehensive policies to address what many call a cultural problem in Frankfort.
Donohue says he rejects Benvenuti’s charge that the committee’s work is discouraging women from bringing possible claims forward.
“Everyone should feel free to come forward in the House,” he says. “The simple fact is we’re all adults here and we have to conduct ourselves in a professional manner. I don’t think it hurt anybody from coming forward. If they feel like there’s an issue they should do that.”
A report by the investigative committee’s legal counsel will be issued during the 2014 legislative session.