Politics

State lawmakers said a performance audit of the Legislative Research Commission reveals cultural issues in the Kentucky state Capitol.

The audit by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the state agency’s employees were distressed by a culture of favoritism and opaque hiring practices in the LRC, a state agency that provides research and staffing to legislators. However, the audit said little about sexual harassment in the organization, even though the report was commissioned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal in the Statehouse.

“It was my understanding that NCSL was supposed to take a look at [sexual harassment], but nary a word of it in that report,” said Lexington Republican Rep. Stan Lee, the new minority caucus chair in the Kentucky House.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat,  said that the sexual harassment charges were symptomatic of the “larger disease within the LRC,” which was evident in the report’s critiques of favoritism and transparency.

“In a way it’s a good ol’ boy network that never really came out of the dark ages of the last century,” Wayne said. “A lot of [legislators] are from small towns and villages where everything is very informal and there are cultural things that they carry into Frankfort that are really not appropriate to Frankfort.”

In the report, the NCSL said the LRC has been slow to embrace new concepts in an increasingly professional environment. The report says that former LRC directors “eschewed excessive structure, rules, guidelines or paperwork,” and that those practices won’t be able to work “in an age of limited resources, a new generation of employees and a more dynamic political landscape.”

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said the lack of guidelines has created an environment in which legislators don’t have to think before they speak.

“There are some behaviors that are very ingrained that some people may think of as not so much harassing, but discriminating: calling females ‘honey,’ or ‘baby,’ or ‘girl’—those-type things are probably going to be harder to change just because they’re kind of ingrained in our culture,” Jenkins said.

Last year, Jenkins sponsored a bill that requires state lawmakers to go through sexual harassment training at the beginning of every legislative session. It passed, but she said not everyone takes the training seriously.

She said with more discussion of the issue, however, people in the Statehouse pay more attention to how women are treated in the workplace.

In 2013, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting investigated reports of inappropriate personal relationships at the Capitol, interviewing over 50 LRC staff members, legislators and others. The story uncovered a history of alleged favoritism between supervisors and subordinates, alleged affairs between LRC staff members and lawmakers.

Democratic Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, also of Louisville, said that she hadn’t personally seen any of the alleged personal relationships or harassment.

But, she said, “when you have an institution that is 80 percent men and 20 percent women and people are way far away from home, I think sometimes it lends itself to behaviors that may be inappropriate.”

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