By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — A Kentucky House Democratic leader has pre-filed legislation to require an independent evaluation of workplace policies and procedures in the Legislative Research Commission in the wake of sexual harassment complaints against a Western Kentucky lawmaker.
House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said her legislation also mandates adoption of a formal personnel system to govern all LRC employees. The LRC has about 350 permanent employees who provide support and research for state legislators.
Overly’s measure would be considered in the 2014 General Assembly that begins in January.
Overly, who earlier this year became the first woman elected to leadership in the House, said the legislation is needed to ensure that the LRC and General Assembly “build and maintain the highest level of professionalism in the workplace.”
State Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, has been accused by three female LRC employees of sexual harassment. He has not publicly commented on the charges.
Two of the women — Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper — have said that more needs to be done to protect legislative staff from sexual harassment.
Costner and Cooper filed complaints against Arnold in August with the Legislative Ethics Commission, alleging repeated sexual harassment.
Gloria Morgan, another LRC employee, later filed a third sexual harassment claim against Arnold. Morgan also filed a complaint against the LRC for allegedly failing to investigate her report of sexual harassment against Arnold.
Overly said a new, more transparent personnel system for the LRC would include a job classification and compensation system, employment procedures relating to hiring, transfers, promotions, grievances, reprimands and disciplinary actions and an appeals process for grievances or complaints.
“New legislation mandating updated policies and procedures is important, but we all know that no set of rules, no matter how well crafted, can change a culture,” Overly said. “My hope is that by shedding increased light on the issue of workplace harassment, we will empower others to speak up against this type of behavior.”
The bill also would include, she said, provisions requiring the LRC to establish comprehensive policies to maintain a harassment free workplace, to offer legislator education on sexual and workplace harassment law and policy and to change to the Legislative Code of Ethics.
Those changes include repealing the law that allows each lobbyist and employer to spend up to $100 annually on food and beverages for each legislator and their immediate family and prohibiting lobbyists and their employers from paying for out-of-state travel, food, or lodging expenses for legislators or candidates.
Also, Overly’s bill would prohibit employers of lobbyists and political action committees from making a campaign contribution to a legislative candidate or legislator during a regular session of the General Assembly and allow a candidate or legislator to return such a contribution within 30 days.