Politics & Government

Kentucky House disbands special committee investigating Jeff Hoover scandal

House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, adjourned the session during the General Assembly in the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, January 10, 2018.
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, adjourned the session during the General Assembly in the State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

The Kentucky House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to abolish a special House committee investigating whether Rep. Jeff Hoover should be expelled as chastened Republican leaders said they would yield to the Legislative Ethics Commission.

In a 90-0 vote, the House eliminated a procedural rule that allowed creation of a special committee of lawmakers to investigate requests for the expulsion of a House member.

“I will admit this was a horrible mistake that never should have been done,” said Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect.

“Over the past couple of days I’ve heard from members of the minority, I’ve heard from members of the majority, I’ve heard from members that supported expulsion, I’ve heard from representatives that do not support expulsion. And it’s my belief that it did not work,” Osborne said.

The House voted 64-26 to approve the rule on Jan. 2, the first day of this year’s legislative session. The next day, eight Republican members filed a complaint against Hoover, asking the committee to recommend he be expelled from the House.

Hoover, who resigned his post as Speaker of the House on Monday, has admitted that he and three other Republican lawmakers secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint made by a legislative staffer. He has said that he and the staffer exchanged inappropriate but consensual text messages and has denied harassing her.

In a lengthy floor speech, state Rep. Jeff Hoover resigned Monday as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Hoover was one of eight lawmakers who did not vote Wednesday on a motion to repeal the rule. He was joined by Rep. Phil Moffett, R-Louisville, and Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, both of whom have pushed for Hoover to be expelled from the House of Representatives.

Osborne said he met Tuesday with House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, and they decided the best way forward was to eliminate rule 23A and defer to the Legislative Ethics Commission on the investigation of Hoover.

“It’s not closure on the issue,” said Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, who was serving as chairman of the special House committee. “But it’s the right thing to do to simplify this process and make it clear that Legislative Ethics has the priority.”

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, said the rule repeated mistakes the House made when it has attempted to police itself in the past.

He said the rule wasted resources because it duplicated the job of the Legislative Ethics Commission, which was created after an FBI investigation of lawmakers in 1993.

“The Legislative Ethics Commission was created to take politics out of complaints against lawmakers,” Wayne said.

The special investigative committee voted to dissolve itself shortly after the House adjourned for the day.

The elimination of the rule comes a day after Hoover attempted to amend it with a motion aimed directly at the eight members who filed the complaint against him. His proposal would have required those lawmakers to pay the costs he incurred because of the investigation if the House decided not to expel him. The motion ultimately was ruled out of order on a technicality and did not receive a vote.

Osborne said the rule was originally written based on the advice of constitutional scholars to establish a system of due process before a member could be expelled from the House. He said Kentucky case law showed that a lawmaker must have due process before being expelled from the House.

“I won’t apologize for the intent,” Osborne said. “But clearly it did not have the intended effect that we had hoped that it would. Whether it was poorly written, whether it was poorly messaged, whatever that may be, it didn’t serve the purpose it was hoped it would serve.”

Osborne said he couldn’t comment on whether a recommendation from the Legislative Ethics Commission to expel a lawmaker could be considered due process.

Hoover is the subject of two complaints before the Legislative Ethics Commission. One complaint filed by House Republican leaders asks the commission to investigate whether the financial terms of the sexual harassment settlement Hoover and three other GOP lawmakers made with the accuser violated ethics laws. The second complaint was made by Wayne, who asked the commission to investigate Hoover’s sexual harassment settlement.

“At this time, I have no reason to doubt their ability to do this in a professional and fair manner,” Wayne said.

The Legislative Ethics Commission is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics