FRANKFORT, KY (CNHI) - A special House committee will review allegations that Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, sexually harassed an employee and tried to cover it up through a confidential financial settlement.
The allegations form the basis for a complaint filed by eight fellow Republicans seeking Hoover's expulsion. The special committee will report its recommendation back to the full House.
The committee is a function of newly approved rules for considering such requests and is made up of three members from each party, appointed by the respective floor leaders, and chaired by the State Government Committee Chairman who will only vote in the case of a tie. In this instance, that's Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville.
Named to the committee Thursday were Republicans Diane St. Onge of Lakeside Park, Donna Mayfield of Winchester, and Jason Petrie of Elton, according to Miller.
Democrats on the committee are Sannie Overly of Paris, Chris Harris of Forest Hills and Joni Jenkins of Shively. Petrie, Overly and Harris are attorneys by profession, according to Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
Hoover is one of four Republican lawmakers who signed a confidential settlement of sexual harassment claims by a former female legislative aide. Hoover admitted to sending the woman "inappropriate text messages" but denies any sexual harassment or physical relationship.
Nonetheless, on Nov. 5 he responded to calls from Gov. Matt Bevin and eight House Republicans that he resign by announcing his intention to do so. But he has since said he's reconsidering while ceding operational control of the House to Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, and awaiting the findings of the Legislative Ethics Commission's review of the allegations.
On Wednesday, the same eight Republicans - Phil Moffett, Joe Fischer, Addia Wuchner, Kim King, Tim Moore, Stan Lee, Russell Webber and Robert Benvenuti - filed a motion seeking to expel Hoover, complying with new rules governing such a move.
Their complaint lists several charges, most of which are drawn from media reports about the settlement and subsequent comments by numerous public officials, including Hoover.
The eight Republicans charge that Hoover sexually harassed the employee, citing as evidence text messages between Hoover and the woman published in a story by The Courier-Journal; that Hoover created a hostile work environment for legislative staff; attempted to use his position to cover up the allegations through the confidential settlement; paid the complainant money to ensure her silence; exposed the legislature to litigation and liability; and continues to withhold facts regarding the settlement.
Rep. C. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, had previously filed a motion under the old rules seeking to expel Hoover but said Wednesday he has not decided how to proceed after the House altered its rules to create the special committee and the process invoked by Moffett and the other seven GOP House members.
It was also on Tuesday that Hoover submitted a letter indicating he would cede control of the House to Osborne pending the outcome of the Ethics Commission investigation.
Since then, Hoover has been seen on the House floor for roll call each day but has immediately left.
Osborne said Thursday Hoover "has not been involved in our leadership meetings." He said the special committee will be granted subpoena power when it is in place.
There have also been questions about whether the special committee's hearings and deliberations will be open to the public.
Adkins said he wants the committee's meeting to be "as transparent as they can possibly be," but he said he wants to learn what attorneys believe should be "privileged" during the hearings. Some have suggested for instance that any alleged victims' identities may need to be protected.
No meeting schedule has been announced for the committee.