By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo on Friday appointed five House members to investigate charges of sexual harassment leveled against one of their colleagues, Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis.
Stumbo named three Democrats and two Republicans to the committee that he promised Thursday to appoint as he filed a petition for Arnold’s censure or expulsion.
The Democrats are Rita Smart of Richmond, Arnold Simpson of Covington and Jeff Donahue of Louisville. The Republicans are Julie Adams of Louisville and Robert Benvenuti of Lexington. Simpson and Benvenuti are attorneys.
In making the announcement, Stumbo said the committee will make a final report to the House of Representatives during the General Assembly’s 2014 regular session, which convenes in January. According to Stumbo, only the full House, acting as a body, can discipline Arnold.
When Stumbo first announced he was filing the petition on Thursday he said the committee would include eight members but he corrected that Friday to say it would have five.
Arnold, 69, is a chiropractor and farmer who represents Union County and parts of Henderson and Daviess counties.
Three female employees of the legislature have accused Arnold of sexual harassment. All three filed formal complaints with the Legislative Ethics Commission, alleging among other things that Arnold made lewd and vulgar comments or touched them inappropriately.
The women said their previous complaints to Bobby Sherman, director of the Legislative Research Commission, and other LRC supervisors failed to stop Arnold’s behavior. An attorney for two of the women, Thomas Clay, has said his clients are considering filing a suit in addition to their complaints to the ethics commission.
WFPL Radio of Louisville published the allegations during the special session on legislative re-districting which ended last week. Arnold left that day without speaking to reporters and did not show up for the last two days of the session.
Attempts to speak with Arnold have been unsuccessful.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has faced increasing pressure to act in some way to discipline Arnold in the wake of the allegations, including from some in his own Democratic caucus.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called for a meeting of the LRC which is comprised of leaders of both parties in both chambers. Senate Minority Leader R.J. Palmer, D-Winchester, on Thursday joined them in asking for the meeting.
That meeting is now scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, in the Capitol Annex.
Stumbo initially resisted the idea of an LRC meeting to discuss the investigation into the allegations but later agreed to it.
He has said several times that Arnold is entitled to due process in the investigation.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.