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Ky. House Moves To Clarify Legislative Ethics Commission Role

In the wake of a controversial decision by the Legislative Ethics Commission, the state House moved Monday to clarify the commission's role.

With less than 48 hours remaining in the 2014 session, the House spent much of Monday morning dealing with fallout from last week’s decision by the commission not to punish former Rep. John Arnold.

The debated and passed amendment to Senate Bill 234 that clarifies that the commission has jurisdiction over actions by former legislators – a sticking point that led to the commission’s lack of action in the Arnold case. The new rules also speed up the process for approving new commission members and increase gender and minority representation on the panel.

"These are fixes that should have been part of the original law and we didn't know about it. What happened last Tuesday shined a spotlight on the weaknesses in the law," Louisville Rep. Jim Wayne said.

While Republicans in the House were unanimous in the support of the measure, several characterized the changes as too little, too late.

"Leadership in this body went to great lengths to avoid honoring a subpoena to testify at the first hearing. Where was the outcry then? Because these alleged victims were employees of the majority leadership staff," House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover said.

Arnold, formerly a Democratic representative from Union, was cleared of ethics charges last week after the commission fell one vote shy on all counts. Three members of the nine-member panel were also absent during the vote. Now two plaintiffs in the case, Yolanda Costner and Cassaundra Cooper, are asking the commission to reconsider the vote.

Cooper told reporters Monday that the House's action was welcome.

"I hope those votes will carry some weight with those individuals in their hearts," she said. "Everybody's got to live with their conscience and I hope they voted with their conscience and they really are supportive of what that resolution said."

While the measure passed with unanimous support, a separate resolution commending Cooper and the other women who came forward was ruled out of order. Some lawmakers had worried aloud the measure would constitute the legislature taking sides during an ongoing legal case.

UPDATE - 3:55 PM - House leadership is allowing the resolution commending Costner and Cooper to move forward.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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