House Passes Amendment Relating to Legislative Ethics

larry-tightThe House of Representatives has passed legislation addressing a matter of significant importance to the legislature as an institution and to our dedicated staff as well.

Last week, after a half-day hearing attended by only five of eight members of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, the attending members could not reach a sufficient number of votes to determine that a former state representative had sexually harassed three female legislative staffers (they needed 5 affirmative votes but only received 4).

This result brought to light several deficiencies in the law governing legislative ethics.  Reps. Joni Jenkins and Jim Wayne, with input from House Majority Leadership, developed legislation late last week to resolve these deficiencies.  The resulting work product is House Floor Amendment 3 to Senate Bill 234.

Floor Amendment 3 does four very simple things:  First, it clarifies that the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction extends to former legislators who are accused of conduct occurring while they were members of the legislature and that sexual harassment claims are also within the jurisdiction of legislative ethics.  Uncertainty in the law on this subject was a contributing factor in the Commission’s failure to determine the responsibility of former House member John Arnold for conduct alleged by staff members.

Second, it requires that both genders be represented on the Commission and that at least one member be representative of a minority group.  This provision is designed to promote greater diversity on the Commission.

Third, it revises the process for making appointments to the Commission to avoid the problem of long-term vacancies.  It also accomplishes this goal by structuring the appointment process in such a way that the House Speaker and Senate President are highly incentivized to make the Commission appointments assigned to them by existing law (each has four appointments, plus one joint appointment).  If one of these officers fails to fill a vacancy in the time allotted by law, the other officer is entitled to make that appointment.  If the Speaker and President do not make the one statutory appointment they are authorized to make jointly, the Commission itself is empowered to fill the vacancy.

Fourth, it requires appointees to attend Commission meetings by allowing the Commission to remove members who do not attend at least half of the scheduled meetings within a calendar year.

All of these provisions will clarify the law and improve the Commission’s processes.  I supported and voted for Floor Amendment 3. I also encourage the Legislative Ethics Commission to rule favorably upon last week’s request from the staff members that there be a rehearing of their allegations before the full Commission.  I am hopeful that request will be granted in the interest of fairness.

Click here to read the legislation.

Click here for the section summary.