Bill to add sexual harassment as ethical misconduct proposed

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - A bill to have sexual harassment and discrimination added to what could be considered ethical misconduct was discussed by a legislative committee Tuesday.


Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, is proposing the legislation, which would allow written complaints to be filed with the Legislative Ethics Commission against a lawmaker or lobbyist by legislative employees, or other legislators and lobbyists, and defines what constitutes the offenses.


“As it stands now in ethics law, there are no specific ethical prohibitions against sexual harassment or discrimination by legislators or lobbyists,” she told the Interim Joint State Government Committee, “and no specific language to guide legislators, lobbyists or legislative staff in making a complaint.”


Moser testified that up until now, the Legislative Ethics Commission has used general provisions against a lawmaker using their office for personal advantage to address sexual harassment.


“It would specifically define sexual harassment and discrimination as being those acts that are unlawful under existing statute, as well as federal and state case law,” she said.  “It would give examples of prohibited conduct, such as unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances, or sexually demeaning behavior.”   


As with other ethics violations, her bill would require a sworn complaint to be filed under penalty of perjury and would go through the Ethics Commission by the same process as other ethics complaints.


“The penalties would be the same as the commission’s current ones for ethical misconduct,” Moser told the panel, “which are a fine of $2,000, public reprimand and a recommendation to the House or Senate that further action, such as censure or expulsion, may possibly be taken.  For a lobbyist, the commission could revoke their ability to lobby for up to five years.”


She says she found out Monday that House Leadership has worked on a human resource anti-harassment policy, geared toward addressing the issue as a personnel matter, “but this legislation could serve as a legal safety valve in dealing with these issues, so I think they could work together.”


Laura Hendrix, the executive director of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said she supports Moser’s efforts on the issue.  “It would really assist the General Assembly itself, the people who work here and the public to know that there’s a standard.”


Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, noted, “I find this troubling and a little bit embarrassing, that we haven’t passed this yet.”     


Moser sponsored a similar measure during the 2020 session.  It passed the House unanimously, but was not taken up in the Senate because they ran out of time with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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