Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

August 21, 2013

Sexual harassment complaints shake capitol

FRANKFORT — The General Assembly and state capitol were rocked Wednesday by a news story alleging sexual harassment of two legislative employees by Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis.

While lawmakers debated new legislative redistricting plans, WFPL Radio, the Louisville public radio station, published a story online that two female Legislative Research Commission employees had filed separate ethics complaints against Arnold with the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Then after a vote in the House on the redistricting plan, Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, rose and spoke of the WFPL story and the complaints by two employees, recalling for the nearly silent chamber a previous scandal involving members of the General Assembly in the 1990s.

Riner commended the women for coming forward with their allegations and said at least one more complaint is likely to be filed, although he didn’t identify who might file it.

He said the General Assembly must “not tolerate this kind of abuse” and said he planned to offer a resolution condemning the behavior of Arnold — who he never named during his speech.

Riner didn’t identify by name the two women who had filed the complaints either. But by the time he spoke, nearly everyone in the House chamber had heard of or read the WFPL story online.

WFPL reported that the two women were long-time employees of the LRC and had filed separate complaints alleging harassment by Arnold over several years, including improper touching and making lewd and vulgar comments. (The WFPL published story named the two women — with their permission — according to the story. CNHI policy is not to name victims of sexual abuse.)

State law makes complaints to the Legislative Ethics Commission confidential unless released either by the complainant or the accused.

Arnold, 68, represents Union County and parts of Daviess and Henderson counties in western Kentucky. He is a retired chiropractor, farmer and businessman who has suffered some health problems recently.

Arnold remained on the House floor during Riner’s speech, but avoided most reporters waiting for him outside the chamber’s main entrance by exiting through a side door and down a back stairwell.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he had “heard some rumors but I was never advised directly. I know (LRC) Director (Bobby) Sherman at one point had contacted us. We direct him to follow his protocol and protect the employees.”

He said neither he nor the House has the power to discipline a legislator, saying that power rests with the Ethics Commission.

Later Stumbo issued the following statement:

“The House of Representatives has zero tolerance for harassment of any nature,” he said in the statement. “Procedures exist for promptly addressing such allegations in order to protect the rights of all involved individuals. All staff concerns were relayed to the executive director of LRC. These procedures are confidential and operate independently of members or Leadership.”

One of the women named in the WFPL story works in the office of Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.

“When I was notified of this incident I met with LRC Executive Director Bobby Sherman to inform him of these allegations to ensure the protection of LRC employees,” Adkins said Wednesday afternoon. “I must respect the process of the Legislative Ethics Commission as an independent body that treats these matters confidentially.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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