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State Lawmakers Attend Sexual Harassment Seminar Amid Scandal

Kentucky lawmakers attended a mandatory sexual harassment prevention session on Wednesday, a day after the House speaker announced he wouldn’t resign his seat amid a harassment scandal.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, said lawmakers took the training session more seriously than in previous years.

“Maybe less laughter in the room,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think our capital is any different from any other workplace. I think there’s always the potential for people to abuse their power and to not be culturally sensitive and not be gender sensitive.”

Last fall, House Speaker Jeff Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers signed a confidential settlement with a former staffer after she accused them of sexual harassment.

Hoover said he would resign his leadership position after the allegations came to light, but on Tuesday said he was reconsidering the move.

Hoover has denied sexually harassing the woman, but admitted to exchanging inappropriate text messages with her.

Gov. Matt Bevin has called for Hoover and other lawmakers implicated in the scandal to step down from elected office.

Before the training session on Wednesday, Hoover said Bevin was “very misinformed.”

Hoover has temporarily awarded the speaker’s duties to Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne while the Legislative Ethics Commission investigates whether Hoover and the other lawmakers broke the law.

Jenkins said she was disappointed in Hoover’s decision to keep his speakership.

“I think all of us legislators should model really good behavior,” Jenkins said. “I think we should be held to a higher standard. And I think we should be vigilant when we see even small things happen, we should counsel our fellow legislators on that behavior.”

Reporters were not allowed to attend the sexual harassment seminar, which was conducted by the Legislative Research Commission.

LRC director David Byerman said reporters would have a chilling effect on lawmakers participating in the discussion.

“We try to provide the best possible environment to ensure that if they have questions they can ask those questions,” Byerman said.

Lawmakers are required to attend three hours of training on ethics and sexual harassment prevention at the beginning of every legislative session.

The legislature passed the training requirement in 2014 after two Legislative Research Commission employees accused former Rep. John Arnold, a Democrat from Sturgis, of inappropriately touching them and also accused former LRC director Bobby Sherman of not doing enough to address sexual harassment of staffers in the state agency.

The complaint was settled in 2015 with the LRC paying $400,000 to the women.