A Louisville law firm has launched its investigation of a sexual harassment scandal in the Kentucky House of Representatives, Republican leaders said Tuesday.
“New information regarding this unfolding situation has emerged today,” House Speaker Pro-Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, said in a prepared statement. “On behalf of the leadership team, I would like to reiterate that while we were kept in the dark about exactly what happened, we are committed to pursuing a fully independent investigation so that all facts may be known.”
He did not reveal what new information the House had learned Tuesday, either in his written statement or when taking questions from the media after House Republicans held a four-hour caucus meeting behind closed doors.
“We’re learning new information every day,” Osborne said after the meeting. “I’m not going to discuss personnel matters.”
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He said Republicans did not elect a new House speaker to replace state Rep. Jeff Hoover, who stepped down from his leadership post Sunday after acknowledging that he and others had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim brought by a legislative staffer.
Osborne deflected other questions, referring reporters to the statement he released earlier in the day.
That statement included a memo sent to staff of the House Republican Caucus, urging them to cooperate with investigators from the law firm of Middleton Reutlinger.
“Based on what we know at this moment, we are firmer than ever in our belief that a fully independent investigation must be allowed to continue,” Osborne said. “Clearly, things have happened in the background of the Kentucky House of Representatives that must ultimately be disclosed to the public.”
Osborne said the House Republican leadership team would make no decisions regarding legislators or staff until “the facts are fully known.”
In their own letter Tuesday, House Democratic leaders urged Republicans to consult with them before launching an investigation.
“House Majority Leadership’s selection of a person or entity to perform an investigation of harassment claims against its own caucus members cannot, by definition, be independent,” House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said in a letter to GOP leaders. “We would caution you not to pursue this course.”
Hoover, R-Jamestown, said Sunday that he would stay on as state representative and denied that he or other lawmakers ever harassed the woman.
The other Republican lawmakers named in a settlement demand letter from the accuser are Rep. Brian Linder of Dry Ridge; Rep. Michael Meredith of Oakland; and Rep. Jim DeCesare of Bowling Green, according to House Republican Communications Director Daisy Olivo, who has seen the letter. The three were temporarily removed from their positions as committee chairmen by the House GOP leadership team Sunday evening, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
The letter also accused House Republican Chief of Staff Ginger Wills of creating a hostile work environment, according to Olivo.
On Tuesday, Olivo resumed her responsibility of handling media inquiries. She had been relieved of that duty Thursday, the day after she met with the general counsel and human resources director of the Legislative Research Commission to voice her concerns about the work environment in the House Republican leadership office. Olivo said she had previously approached Hoover on Sept. 5 about an employee who was concerned about returning to work because of a hostile work environment.
Prior to the caucus meeting, state Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, displayed optimism that Republicans would clean up the mess left behind by Hoover’s resignation.
“I think leadership has taken all the right steps, in so far as calling for an investigation,” he said.
Nemes said he thinks the House can keep on track a proposal to overhaul the state’s ailing public pension systems, even as the Republican majority juggles an investigation and changes in leadership.
“I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Nemes said.
Others were less optimistic. Rep. Kenny Imes, R-Murray, said things had gotten “less hopeful” for pension reform. He said he wished for peace and quiet in the Capitol.
“I’ve never seen an atmosphere like we’ve got right now,” said Imes, who served from 1972 to 1979 before getting re-elected in 2013.