A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Six lawmakers, including Diane St. Onge, named to special House committee to investigate Jeff Hoover

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Six lawmakers – three Democrats and three Republicans – have been appointed to a special committee assigned to investigate the possible expulsion of House Speaker Jeff Hoover for signing a sexual harassment settlement.
House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, told reporters his choices for the committee are Sannie Overly of Paris, Joni Jenkins of Louisville and Chris Harris of Forest Hills. 

“All three are very respected in this chamber, two of whom are attorneys,” Adkins said, referring to Overly and Harris. “They’re talented people and they come from different walks of life.  I think they will do, in a very appropriate way, the task they are given, and they’ll do it with a very open mind.”

Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, is one of six lawmakers assigned to the special committee. (LRC photo)

Jenkins has been in the House since 1995 and has been a longtime advocate for preventing violence against women.

Overly was the House Majority Caucus chairwoman in 2013 when some female state workers sued then-Democratic lawmaker John Arnold, alleging sexual harassment.

The Republican panel members, announced later, include Reps. Donna Mayfield of Winchester, Diane St. Onge of Fort Wright and Jason Petrie of Elkton.

The committee will investigate the factual basis of the allegations and ultimately render a recommendation of action by the full House.

House State Government Committee Chairman Jerry Miller, R-Louisville, is the chairman of the special committee, but will have no vote unless there is a tie between the other six members.

Eight Republican House members filed formal charges against Hoover, R-Jamestown, on Wednesday, accusing him of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and attempting to cover it up.

Under a change in House rules adopted this week, a committee of three Republicans and three Democrats was to be appointed to investigate the charges. 

Adkins said he hopes the process is as transparent as possible.

“Not being an attorney myself, and going into this for the first time, I think it’s fair to give this committee a chance to set the procedures on how it’s going to work and make recommendations back to us,” he said. “I don’t want to tie their hands before they meet in any shape, form or fashion, but I think transparency is very important through this whole process.”

Hoover said the complaint is motivated by politics. Its signers include Republican Rep. Phil Moffett, who Hoover told the Associated Press has “wanted to be speaker since he got here.”   Hoover has denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate yet consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus.

The other GOP lawmakers who signed the complaint are state Reps. Tim Moore, Addia Wuchner, Kim King, Russell Webber, Stan Lee, Robert Benvenuti and Joe Fischer.

When asked if the new rules, covering allegations that occurred last fall, could violate the Constitutional ban on Ex Post Facto laws, Osborne said no. “This is a constitutional right for us to police our own body.”  

Osborne also said Hoover is not involved in any of their leadership meetings.

In a letter sent to Osborne, that he read to House members on Tuesday, Hoover said he would step aside as Speaker until an investigation is completed by the Legislative Ethics Commission and Osborne would be the Speaker “until further notice.”

In November, Hoover announced his intention to resign as Speaker after he admitted entering a settlement to sexual harassment accusations brought by a former House GOP Caucus staffer.  Three other Republican House members also entered settlements.
Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers who signed the settlement say a confidentiality clause prevents them from discussing it publicly. 

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