After a few terse moments on the House floor Tuesday, that chamber's investigation into sexual harassment claims against former Democratic Rep. John Arnold came to a close on the first day of the 2014 legislative session.
Debate on the issue was limited to those who served on the special investigative committee empanelled to look into the allegations against Arnold, who is the subject of a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court filed by two Legislative Research Commission staffers as well as three ethics complaints brought by the same women and another LRC employee.
Republicans on the committee again voiced concerns with disbanding Dec. 12 by a party line 3-2 vote, before investigating the women's claims. Democrats countered that the panel lacked authority once Arnold, of Sturgis, resigned Sept. 13.
"As we begin this session, there are multitude of issues that beg our attention," said Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington. “So let's put this report behind us. No one's proud of the actions taken by (Arnold), but he's taken a course that, in my thought, was a proper course of resigning."
Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said the panel had a responsibility to examine Arnold's conduct as a member of the House, and he predicted Kentucky voters would not forget the committee's inaction. He said an opinion from the committee's attorney, Patrick Hughes of Crestview Hills, did not prevent the panel from moving forward in its work.
"In conducting a thorough and complete investigation as you (House Speaker Greg Stumbo) charged us to do, this committee had the opportunity to restore accountability in this chamber and to protect the employees that faithfully serve by our side and by extension to rebuild the trust of the citizens of the commonwealth," Benvenuti said.
Rep. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said the committee operated with "an air of, 'I'm going to be partisan first and a human being second.'" She asked Stumbo to convene another panel to "do the real work of protecting the people that work in this chamber."
However, Simpson contended that some on the committee wanted "to go beyond the scope of the petition to go on a hunting expedition."
"The petition was relative to the act of a member," Simpson said, his voice rising.
Without a specific target of investigation, Tuesday's brief floor debate seemed to mark the end of the House's involvement in the sexual harassment allegations against Arnold.
Stumbo said any member is welcome to file a petition of censure or expulsion against another, and he noted the General Assembly would undergo sexual harassment training for the first time in his memory Wednesday. "I think the training will have more deterrence than anything," he said.
Stumbo would not have filed the petition of censure or expulsion against Arnold had the former lawmaker resigned after the allegations came to light during August's special session, but "he didn't do the right thing, in my judgment."
Arnold resigned shortly after Stumbo filed the petition.
Taking some offense to "the political nature" of comments on the House floor Tuesday, Stumbo reminded reporters that he asked any LRC employees to come forward with additional complaints of misconduct. None surfaced.
"There is no evidence there's a culture," Stumbo said. "That's a political word that unfortunately some of the minority members are using. I could make the argument that there's a culture of corruption in their party based upon the conduct of Rep. (Ben) Waide, if it's true or not, and I don't want to do that."
Waide, R-Madisonville, is accused by his business partners of misusing some $31,000 of funds from a physical therapy business he co-owns for campaign purposes in a complaint filed in Hopkins Circuit Court. Waide has denied any wrongdoing.
Stumbo added, "As Rep. Simpson said, we have more important things to up here than to talk about that sort of thing."