The Kentucky General Assembly was back in session this week and despite promises to come up with solutions to the state’s pension crisis, much of lawmakers’ attention has been on the sexual harassment scandal still unfolding in the House of Representatives.
Capitol reporter Ryland Barton has the year’s first installment of Kentucky Politics Distilled.
It was a dramatic first week of the Kentucky General Assembly. On the first day of the legislative session, reporters and lawmakers were surprised to see Speaker Jeff Hoover’s name back up on the lectern at the front of the House of Representatives.
Hoover had promised to resign the position last year after allegations surfaced that he had secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint made by a former staffer and tried to cover it up.
But then this week, Hoover issued a press release saying he would only step aside from the speakership for the, quote, “time being.”
In the meantime he’s officially lending the gavel to House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, who has already been tasked with managing investigations into Hoover and wrangling House Republicans, who are divided in supporting Hoover.
“He has only indicated to me what he put in the letter today in the communication to the house. And at this point in time I will do my job as the speaker pro tem that I was elected to do last January.”
The House also passed new rules that officially grant the speaker’s powers to Osborne in case of Hoover’s absence.
Louisville Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins accused Republicans of trying to skirt around electing a new House speaker while they’re divided.
“Folks there of all things is an elephant in the room. And we know what that elephant is. And I would say maybe there are folks in this chamber that want to avoid taking a hard vote on who is our speaker.”
And House Republicans are divided over Hoover’s fate. Some have been pushing for Hoover to return to the speakership. Others have been demanding his resignation from the body.
A day after the House approved new rules creating a formal disciplinary process if two or more lawmakers file a complaint, that’s exactly what happened. Eight Republican lawmakers filed a complaint against Hoover, calling for him to be expelled and saying he had, quote, “irreparably damaged” the chamber’s reputation.
Louisville Republican Rep. Phil Moffett is one of the lawmakers who filed the complaint.
“The people of this state expect us to have higher standards than even the corporate world has. And those standards have been breached and we need to be the adults in the room and do the right thing.”
Now a special House committee has been created to investigate the Hoover allegations. The panel is made up of 3 Democrats and 4 Republicans including Louisville GOP Rep. Jerry Miller, who will chair the committee and cast a tie-breaking vote.
Miller drew fire from Democrats after saying the committee would first meet in secret to determine if the investigation will go forward.
“Is there cause, is the complaint valid, is there enough there worthy of an investigation. We will make that evaluation likely in closed session.”
Meanwhile, specifics about pension reform, which is supposed to be the main focus of the legislative session have yet to be revealed.
Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican leaders of the legislature initially proposed a bill that would phase out the state’s use of a defined benefit pension system — that is, a system that guarantees benefits to retirees for life.
Instead, lawmakers proposed moving most future and some current workers onto less-generous 401(k) type retirement plans and tweaking current benefits to help save the state money.
But widespread backlash to that proposal sent bill writers back to the drawing board.
Senate President Robert Stivers says that’s where they still are.
“We’re working on it. We want to get everything in place, make sure we have all the numbers and facts and then hopefully very soon we’ll roll something out.”
Stivers says some provisions affecting current state workers and retirees might be scaled back in the next version of the bill, which he says will come out soon.
That’s it for your distilled rundown of the news out of Frankfort this week.