Politics & Government

Kentucky General Assembly opens with squabbling and a historic moment

State Sen. Reginald Thomas at the Kentucky State Capitol for Governor Steve Beshear's State of the Commonwealth Address at the Kentucky State Capitol on Jan. 7, 2014, in Frankfort.  Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff
State Sen. Reginald Thomas at the Kentucky State Capitol for Governor Steve Beshear's State of the Commonwealth Address at the Kentucky State Capitol on Jan. 7, 2014, in Frankfort. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Kentucky's 2014 General Assembly opened Tuesday with squabbling in the House and history-making in the Senate.

House Democrats and Republicans argued over a special committee that was supposed to investigate sexual harassment complaints against a former member, while the Senate convened for the first time with two black members.

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In a series of House floor speeches, the Democratic majority defended its decision last month to dissolve a special committee that was to investigate sexual harassment complaints against former Rep. John Arnold Jr, D-Sturgis.

Once Arnold resigned his House seat, lawmakers no longer had the authority to investigate or discipline him, said Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Fairdale.

Republican House members argued that the chamber has failed in its responsibility to police its own conduct and protect legislative aides from hostile workplace behavior.

Arnold faces a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court filed last year by female legislative staffers and a Legislative Ethics Commission investigation.

Republicans are expected to use the handling of the special committee as political ammunition in their efforts to take control of the state House in November's elections.

Meanwhile, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution recognizing the first time it has had two black members: Democrats Gerald Neal of Louisville and Reginald Thomas of Lexington.

Thomas, a Lexington attorney, won a special election last month to replace Democrat Kathy Stein, who had been appointed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to a Fayette circuit court judgeship.

Neal called the event "historic."

Thomas told his colleagues that he had planned to remain quiet on his first day in office, but he would have to give a brief speech to appreciate being a member of the Senate.

"If you were quiet, you would not be following your predecessor," said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, in a nod to Stein, who was never shy about speaking out in the legislature.

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