Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has filed a petition that would allow the House to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against Democratic Representative John Arnold, D-Sturgis.
State lawmakers could then vote to censure or expel the Western Kentucky lawmaker.
In addition to the petition, the House Committee on Committees is sending Arnold a letter saying that he will be suspended as chairman of the Budget Review Subcommittee on General Government, Finance and Public Protection.
According to Stumbo's office, Democratic and Republican House leaders agreed with the decision along with Gov. Steve Beshear.
Arnold could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, plans to appoint an investigative committee on Friday consisting of eight House members. That committee will have the power to summon Arnold to answer any charges against him and present a report to the 100-member House.
Any action against Arnold could be taken during the next legislative session in January, when lawmakers are back in Frankfort.
The legislative investigation would join an ongoing inquiry by the Legislative Research Commission.
Stumbo said the allegations of harassment and assault leveled against Arnold by longtime Legislative Research Commission staffers have become a distraction in the Capitol and the integrity of the House needs to be above reproach.
"I wish none of this had to occur, but I am committed to seeing it resolved in a way that is swift, fair and transparent," he said in a statement.
The staffers who have made the allegations against Arnold have also said LRC supervisors and House Democratic leaders did not respond adequately to their initial complaints that Arnold inappropriately touched them and made lewd comments.
Since first reported by WFPL and the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Stumbo has issued multiple statements saying his office and the LRC handled the situation properly, though it has not been resolved.
The petition comes a day after Republican Senate President Robert Stivers called for a meeting of legislative leaders to discuss the LRC probe, which Stumbo declined to participate in. In a statement Thursday, Stumbo said he did not object to the meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 4, as long as it protects the two staffers.
Here's Stumbo's full statement:
As an investigation against state Rep. John Arnold continues, House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed a petition at 2 p.m. today that sets the stage for the full House to investigate the alleged conduct and decide whether censure or expulsion is in order.
“I have decided to take this action so that the full House will have the opportunity to review the evidence and the recommendation of the eight-member investigative committee I shall appoint tomorrow, after speaking with candidates from both the majority and minority caucuses. The Constitution gives each chamber of the General Assembly authority to determine its rule of proceedings and to punish a member for disorderly behavior and, with a two-thirds vote, to expel him or her,” said Speaker Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg. “As I said last week during the special session, I believe strongly that due process is crucial in legal matters, but we need to be ready if the findings show that these acts did indeed take place. This is not a decision I take lightly, and it needs to be resolved quickly.
“As Speaker, I must maintain the order and dignity of the body,” he added. “These allegations have become a distraction as we prepare for the upcoming legislative session, and I know of no other way to deal with the matter even though the complaints are under review by the Legislative Ethics Commission. Some have legal questions about their jurisdiction, and they have only limited authority concerning punishment.”
Speaker Stumbo’s petition, which has been filed with the House Clerk, cites the House’s constitutional and statutory authority to carry out the needed investigation and to take action thereon in the January 2014 Regular Session of the General Assembly.
Under Speaker Stumbo’s petition, a special House committee will be formed, and it will have the full power and authority to summon Representative John Arnold, “to answer the charges, to take testimony and make an official record and issue a report … .”
“The integrity of our chamber needs to be above reproach, and I intend to see that we accept nothing less,” Speaker Stumbo said. “I wish none of this had to occur, but I am committed to seeing it resolved in a way that is swift, fair and transparent.”
In a related matter, Speaker Stumbo sent a letter today to Senate President Robert Stivers, requesting he provide any notice he gave asking for a meeting for the Legislative Research Commission next week. Speaker Stumbo noted that his office “has taken great care to avoid any appearance of interfering with the impartial investigation called for by our LRC policy. If, as stated in press reports, you have questions about specific actions taken by the Director in this case, those questions should be directed to him.”
Speaker Stumbo added in his letter that, on Friday, August 23rd, he and other members of both the majority and minority House leadership met and agreed that the LRC Director’s actions “need to be thoroughly reviewed by an independent source to ensure that our employees are protected and provided a safe working environment. I believe we all agreed that a final report from the Director should be made before such an investigation.”
In his letter, the Speaker stated he did not object to a Sept. 4th LRC meeting “so long as it follows our existing policies to protect vulnerable employees.”
Here's the petition: