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House Democrats start session calling leadership into question

House convenes on first day of 2018 legislative session.

House Democrats didn’t spare any punches on the first day of the 2018 legislative session after a procedural rule provoked them into launching a salvo of objections aimed mostly at still-official House Speaker Jeff Hoover - the proverbial elephant in the room.

Hoover entered the House chamber before the body convened Tuesday. He was met affectionately by many lawmakers despite him and three other House Republicans confidentially settling a sexual harassment suit with a young female staffer in 2017.

The GOP majority drafted new rules of procedure for the chamber which included protocol for any charges launched against a House member.

The rule’s provisions call for any charges against a House member be investigated by a committee comprised of three members from each party. In the event of a tie, the State Government Committee’s chair would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Louisville House Democrats Mary Lou Marzian and Jim Wayne both objected to the rule.

Marzian said the rule could lead to retribution or retaliation.  

“We already have a mechanism for censure,” Marzian said. “And the voters can vote us out of office very easily.”

Wayne said the rule doesn’t state whether the committee has subpoena power and told Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne the law firm hired by the House GOP to investigate Hoover and Republican Reps. Decesare, Linder and Meredith —who were involved in the sexual harassment settlement —  “was found to be pretty impotent because they did not have subpoena power.”

Lexington House Democrat Kelly Flood didn’t mince words on the rule calling it ill-conceived.

“Are we voting on the speakership with this vote? I would suggest ladies and gentlemen that we very much are — that’s what’s occurring here,” Flood said. “I think it imperative that we take a moment to recognize what’s occurring. This rule change means the gentlemen from Russell (Speaker Jeff Hoover) will remain as speaker and we’d have all voted ‘yes’ or not.

“At a point when our body needs to actually debate that. So, I want to put out today that that debate, which we will have, is occurring now under the illusion of rules. And this woman knows that those rules were drafted without one voting woman in the room. And this woman legislator knows that it is beyond time for that to be the case. These rules reflect something fundamentally off.”

Hoover left the chamber during the debate and issued a statement advising that Osborne continue in his role as House Speaker Pro Tempore and conduct the House chamber until the Legislative Ethics Commission concludes its investigation into the sexual harassment claim. Hoover also stated he is reconsidering whether he should formally step down.

“Almost immediately, I began hearing from members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, political leaders and others across the commonwealth, encouraging me to reconsider my decision to resign, “ the letter states.

“As I consider the best course forward, and in light of the two pending issues before the Legislative Ethics Commission, I have asked Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to serve, as the Rules of the House of Representatives provides, as the presiding officer until further notice.”

The resolution adopting the Rules of Procedures for the 2018 session passed 64-26 with Democrat Minority Floor Leader Rep. Rocky Adkins, of Sandy Hook, Rep. Darryl Owens of Louisville voting in favor of their adoption, as well as DeCesare.

Hoover and Linder didn’t vote.  

Osborne refused to answer whether Hoover still participated in House leadership meetings or other official business.

Republican House Speak Pro Tem David Osborne answers questions after the session.

A good change

One sound decision the House GOP procedural rules included reinstating the three-day rule, which requires a bill be posted for three days before it is heard by a committee for a vote.

During the 2017 session, the then-new Republican majority changed the rule to a one-day posting allowing the passage of so many bills in the session’s first week such as removing the threshold for fair wages on public works jobs and removing the working class’s negotiating power with an employer.

On Tuesday, House Democrats took issue that once again they had not received the new procedural rules to study them before a vote on the House floor - echoing the same tactics of the past session.