Kentucky House changes course on ex-speaker investigation

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky House changed course Wednesday in the investigation of its ex-speaker, voting to disband a special committee that was formed to dig into a sexual harassment settlement that he secretly signed.

The committee later voted itself out of existence. The sudden reversal means the investigation of Jeff Hoover shifts fully to the state’s Legislative Ethics Commission.

House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne took to the House floor to urge his colleagues to repeal a rule that authorized the special bipartisan committee’s formation.

“It’s loud and clear that it did not work,” he said.

House members voted 90-0 eliminate the rule.

Osborne, R-Prospect, said he consulted with Republicans and Democrats, as well as House members supporting Hoover’s expulsion and those opposing his ouster.

“We will deal with disciplinary motions as they occur,” Osborne said. “And we will defer these present issues before us to the Legislative Ethics Commission.”

Osborne said the rule was intended to ensure due process for any lawmaker accused of misconduct. He apologized to his colleagues for creating a rule that caused “some bit of chaos and consternation.” But he said he wouldn’t apologize for its intent.

“I really do believe in the integrity of this body, and I believe that public service really is a noble thing to do,” he said.

Rep. Jerry Miller, who served as the special committee’s chairman, supported abolishing the panel.

“It’s not closure on an issue,” said Miller, R-Louisville. “But it’s the right thing to do to simplify this process and make it very clear that Legislative Ethics Commission has priority.”

House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said shifting the investigation to the ethics commission puts it “in the best hands to carry forward to bring forward the truth.”

When reached by phone, the commission’s executive director, John Schaaf, said the commission doesn’t comment on pending cases.

The commission is scheduled to meet next Tuesday.

Hoover, a Republican, was already under investigation by the commission, even before the House’s action on Wednesday. That inquiry focuses on whether Hoover violated state ethics laws, primarily if he used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to make the settlement payment.

Eight Republican House members had filed formal disciplinary charges against Hoover and asked the special committee to recommend that the House expel him.

Hoover resigned as speaker on Monday, more than two months after publicly acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a woman in his office. Hoover denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate but consensual text messages with a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus.

Those text messages, according to charges filed against Hoover in the House, included a request for the woman to send him a photo of her wearing a “black lace g string.”

Hoover announced his resignation in November. But last week, when the House convened for the first time since the settlement was revealed, Hoover did not resign, instead temporarily ceding power “until further notice.” He finally resigned his leadership post Monday.

Hoover remains a House member.

Republicans are in their second year of control of the Kentucky House following nearly a century of dominance by Democrats.

As he urged his colleagues to effectively abolish the special committee investigating one of its own, Osborne called on the House to “restore some decorum” and for its members to “act like gentlemen and ladies.” Lawmakers have a challenging session ahead as they write a new state budget and consider overhauling public pension systems.

“Let’s get to work,” he said.

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Associated Press Writer Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.

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