Legislative Research Commission ethics bill is split three ways
Published 8:38 am Friday, February 28, 2014
A wide-ranging bill focused on legislative ethics, personnel practices at the Legislative Research Commission and sexual harassment training has been parceled out among three separate pieces of legislation that all cleared the House State Government Committee Thursday.
Democratic Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville said parts of House Bill 3, sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, were included in amended versions of House Bills 28, 88 and 378.
HB 3 was divided up because the legislation was too broad and could have been saddled with a number of floor amendments, endangering its chances of passing, Yonts said. Another proposed piece of HB 3 would have focused on executive branch ethics, further expanding its scope, he said.
“We did not want to run the risk that other things would be attached to it that would end up killing the bill, so we’ve got three basically clean bills,” Yonts said. “One dealing with legislative ethics (HB 28), one dealing with personnel policy and pay policy (HB 33), and one dealing with sexual harassment (HB 378).”
Yonts, chairman of the House State Government Committee, said language from HB 3 was implemented in each bill via committee substitutes because HB 3 “has had some additional work on it anticipating we would deal with it first as a master bill.”
“But because we decided we want to break these out so we can better deal with them and not get into title issues, we decided to take the most written and better written parts and put them to the topics in those respective bills,” he said.
HB 28 would make a number of changes to the legislative branch’s ethics code, such as forbidding lawmakers and legislative candidates from accepting campaign donations from lobbyists and their employers, requiring organizations contracting with lobbyists to report all advertising purchased during sessions, and prohibiting lobbyists from giving anything of value to lawmakers in one-on-one settings.
HB 378, meanwhile, would make sexual and workplace harassment seminars mandatory for LRC staff and lawmakers.
Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Fairdale, is the bill’s sponsor and chaired a House investigative committee empanelled to look into claims of sexual harassment against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis, who resigned before the committee began its work. The panel disbanded, saying it had no jurisdiction over a former legislator.
Both HB 28 and HB 378 cleared the committee unanimously, but HB 88 met some resistance, with Rep. Suzanne Miles, R-Owensboro, voting against the measure and Republican Reps. Brad Montell of Shelbyville and Steven Rudy of West Paducah passing.
The bill would require the 16-member Legislative Research Commission — comprised of Democrat and Republican leaders in both chambers — to formulate personnel, compensation and job classification systems in consultation with the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet. HB 88 would also require the LRC to establish procedures for non-partisan staff similar to those practiced by the Kentucky Personnel Board.
With four representatives of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Frankfort conducting 67 interviews with lawmakers and staff this week as part of a $42,410 contract with the LRC to review the legislative agency, Yonts said HB 88 is timely legislation.
The State Journal has reported on lax personnel policies at LRC, as well as a number of raises bestowed upon a former staffer romantically linked to former LRC Director Robert Sherman.
“We should’ve had it decades ago,” Yonts said of developing a personnel policy. He noted he shared HB 88 and other pertinent LRC legislation with the NCSL representatives, who attended Thursday’s meeting.
Montell, however, asked whether lawmakers should wait for the NCSL to present its recommendations before moving forward with establishing a new LRC personnel policy.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Montell said. “I guess my question is, are we not getting the cart before the horse? We haven’t seen what the results are of their (NCSL’s) study. Are we not moving in advance of that?”
Yonts said the HB 88 would not set any new personnel standards, but would rather direct top lawmakers to consult with the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in formulating such a policy.