By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – A resolution has been reached in the mediation of claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation and other misconduct against state lawmakers.
Leslie Vose, attorney for the Legislative Research Commission, and Thomas Clay, attorney for three women who made the claims, confirmed the resolution Tuesday morning but declined to provide any details of it.
Vose, of Lexington, said, “I can say the mediation was successful to all parties involved,” but said legislative leaders now will have to sign off on it.
Neither House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, nor Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, had any immediate comment.
John Cox, a spokesman for Stivers, said details of the resolution will not be immediately released. He did not elaborate.
Clay, of Louisville, said the parties Monday night “reached a mutually satisfactory resolution.”
The closed mediation started Monday in the Lexington law office of Steve Barker.
Clay also said “all parties involved” should be pleased and that the resolution will take care of all lawsuits in the cases.
The mediation addressed two cases, both brought in October of 2013.
One involved sexual harassment claims by legislative staffers Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper against former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis. Arnold has denied any wrongdoing.
The two women also sued the Legislative Research Commission, and earlier this year added Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, as a defendant after Bell fired Costner from her job in the House majority whip’s office soon after he was elected whip.
The second case involved allegations by legislative staffer Nicole Cusic that she was moved to an inferior job after she complained that Rep. Will Coursey, D-Symsonia, had sexually harassed female legislative staffers.
Coursey has denied the charge and sued Cusic for defamation. Cusic also listed the LRC and former LRC director Bobby Sherman as defendants in her case.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order Tuesday to create a 23-member group to address the state’s financially strapped Teachers’ Retirement System.
Beshear named David Karem, a former Democratic state senator from Louisville and a former chairman of the state Board of Education, to chair the panel and to submit a report to him by or on Dec. 1.
Beshear leaves office in early December and could turn over any recommendations to the 2016 General Assembly.
The creation of the special panel drew applause from the top two legislative leaders – House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester – but criticism from House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.
Hoover said he was “extremely disappointed.”
“Gov. Beshear had a real opportunity to create an independent, non-partisan panel to give a thorough review of KTRS in an effort to make substantive recommendations to solidify the system,” said Hoover in an email.
“Instead the governor chose to fill this task force with self-serving special interest groups that have been part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
HERALD-LEADER FRANKFORT BUREAU
FRANKFORT — State Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election to the Kentucky Senate next year.
Girdler, a former aide and district director for Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset, said in a statement that after more than “a year of prayerful consideration and conversations with my wife and close friends, I have confidently come to the decision that I will not be seeking re-election in 2016.”
Girdler, who won an election in 2012 to represent the 15th Senate District that includes Pulaski, Lincoln and Boyle counties, said he has a deep passion for public service but his wife, Courtney, and he are expecting their second daughter soon “and my passion for public service pales in comparison to the love and passion I have for my family and my faith.”
Girdler noted that he suggested many times on the campaign trail in 2012 that he did not plan on serving in the Senate for a long time.
“I feel I made that abundantly clear when I opted out of the legislative retirement plan upon being sworn in to prove that I was not in the General Assembly for the perks and privileges, but there to do the people’s business, and that is exactly what I have done,” he said.
FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law Monday a bill that will provide the University of Kentucky with $132.5 million in state bonds for a six-story medical research center.
“This projects represents the potential to improve the lives of so many, both within Kentucky where our health outcomes are so poor, and beyond,” Beshear said at a Capitol news conference with several legislators and Lisa Cassis, UK’s vice president of research.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto was not able to attend because of a stomach virus.
House Bill 298, sponsored by Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, and House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, authorizes spending $5.6 million on debt payments for the bonds this year and $11 million in subsequent years.
UK will provide another $132.5 million for the project through research contracts and private donations.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the project is personal to him since he has had many relatives and friends treated at UK for cancer.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said the ramifications of the center are “wide-ranging.”
Stumbo also apologized to Capilouto, saying he initially thought Capilouto was “not up for the job” to be UK president but that Capilouto has proved him wrong.
The center, which would house researchers from several disciplines, is to be built on UK’s campus near South Limestone and Virginia Avenue.
UK plans to begin construction by the end of the year.
The health challenges those researchers will address include cancer, heart and pulmonary disease, stroke and other preventable illnesses.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT —The Kentucky House has called off meeting for the rest of this week and not reconvene until 4 p.m. Monday.
Meanwhile, the state Senate will meet at 2 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. Friday this week and be back at it next week.
If either chamber meets, that constitutes a legislative day. The House has 100 members and the Senate 38, with one vacancy.
So far, legislators have met 13 days this year. The 2015 General Assembly session is to run for 30 working days, with completion scheduled for March 24. The Kentucky Constitution requires 30-day sessions in odd-numbered years to run no longer than March 30.
Lawmakers have not actually met since last Friday. They were off Monday for Presidents’ Day and have been off Tuesday and Wednesday due to the inclement weather.
House Democratic leaders said in a release Wednesday that the combination of record cold temperatures and this week’s heavy snowfall is the reason for their decision for the chamber not to meet until Monday.
“Several members have expressed concern about leaving their families in these conditions, and major highways like I-65 have seen closures because of accidents,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said.
“Therefore, we think it is more prudent to be safe than sorry.”
Stumbo said it would be up to the individual committee chairmen to decide whether to meet prior to the legislative session on Monday, but “the other leaders and I do not recommend any meetings before we gavel in.”
He added that, at this time, they do not expect this decision to alter the session calendar. “We have more than enough time to complete the work before us,” he said.
Senate Republican leaders met Wednesday afternoon in Frankfort and decided to reconvene this week.
“The majority of our caucus members were here on Wednesday prepared to do the people’s work and the rest are on their way,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in an email. “We understand the hardships associated with current weather conditions, but there are plenty of businesses staying open throughout the Commonwealth and the Senate feels inclined to stay open for business as well.”
By convening on Thursday the Senate will not lengthen the 2015 legislative session, but the House will have two less days to consider legislation, said the Senate GOP release.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Crit Luallen, in her first public speech as Kentucky’s 56th lieutenant governor, told several hundred people in the Capitol Rotunda Friday that she is ready to help Gov. Steve Beshear with his “continuing efforts to build a Kentucky poised for a prosperous future.”
Luallen, who has served with six other Kentucky governors in high positions and was elected twice as state auditor, said the day was not one for laying out a new agenda but “to celebrate all that is right and good about our state’s past and its hope for the future.”
Luallen particiapted in a publc-swearing in ceremony that attracted various state officials like Attorney General Jack Conway, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate President Robert Stivers and other well-wishers.
Beshear named Luallen to be the state’s No. 2 public official to replace Jerry Abramson, who departed to take a job with the White House to help local officials throughout the country.
In his remarks at Friday’s public ceremony, Beshear said Luallen will help his administration in improving access to health care and creating jobs.
Luallen called on several family members and friends to participate in the ceremony.
Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, who went to school with Luallen, served as moderator.
Catarine Hancock, Luallen’s great niece and a sophomore at Lexington’s Lafayette High School, sang the National Anthem.
The Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church in Woodford County, gave the invocation and Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, introduced Luallen.
Franklin Circuit Court Judger Philip Shepherd, administered the public oath of office as Luallen’s husband, Lynn Luallen, held the Bible upon which she put her hand. A private swearing-in ceremony was held Thursday at the home of former Chief Justice John Palmore and Carol Palmore.
Centre College President John Roush provided the closing remarks and Colmon Elridge, executive assistant in the governor’s office, sang “My Old Kentucky Home.”
The Governor’s School for the Arts Alumni offered the musical prelude for the ceremony that lasted about an hour.
A public reception was held in the Governor’s Mansion after the ceremony. Music there was provided by the Centre College Kentucky Ensemble.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT — Senate President Robert Stivers asked for an attorney general’s opinion Monday on whether Kentucky counties can adopt so-called ‘right-to-work’ provisions that let employees work in unionized businesses without joining the union or paying dues.
Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said in a news release that he is seeking the opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway because Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell recently opined that the Louisville Metro Government has the authority to require a higher minimum wage than the minimum wage established by federal or state law.
“Using Mr. O’Connell’s analysis, a county should also be able to establish itself as a right-to-work county,” said Stivers.
The Senate leader noted that he sought the request as legislators prepare for the 2015 General Assembly that begins in January. Republicans in the state Senate have pushed the issue for years, but House Democrats oppose the measure.
Many Republicans say such a state law is needed to spur economic development while many Democrats argue it would lower wages by weakening unions.
A recent Bluegrass Poll found that 55 percent of Kentuckians favor changing state laws to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues. Twenty-eight percent of those polled were opposed.
Stivers said the issue “will be of continuing interest to localities that are looking for innovative ways to attract new businesses.”
He noted that 24 states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that are not pre-empted by federal law.
Stivers was not immediately available to take questions about his request. O’Connell, a Democrat, was not immediately available for comment.
Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin, said the attorney general’s office will review Stivers’ request.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT —A judge granted Senate President Robert Stivers’ request Friday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state Senate’s failure to vote on a reappointment to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd said in a four-page order that the court lacks the constitutional authority to direct the Senate on how to consider such nominations and nothing in the lawsuit filed by Campbellsville doctor Jim Angel supports any allegations that the Senate failed to follow its own rules.
Neither Angel nor his attorney, C. Thomas Hectus of Louisville, was immediately available to comment on Shepherd’s order.
By Jack Brammer
FRANKFORT – House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President Robert Stivers filled a position Monday on the Legislative Ethics Commission that has been vacant for two years.
The two legislative leaders jointly appointed Henry Stephens, a professor at Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, to fill out the nine-member commission that came under fire recently for not having a majority of members present to hear sexual harassment complaints against a former legislator.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Monday that the apppointment took such a long time because it was “an ongoing process, but we are pleased to have found such a well qualified person to serve.”
Stivers’ spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker said he has “been vetting a number of individuals” who would be acceptable to both Stumbo and him.
The other commission appointments are split evenly between them.
FRANKFORT — Several Kentucky senators shouted “amens” Monday when a Frankfort minister opened the state Senate with a prayer thanking God for the University of Kentucky basketball victories.
The prayer offered by Rev. Gary Hager, senior minister of Westivew Baptist Church, drew the most responses from legislators of any prayer in the chamber this session.
Hager also thanked God for the civility in the chamber wrought by Senate President Robert Stivers.