By John Schaaf, Executive Director, Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission
The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission unanimously approved several recommendations for the General Assembly to update the state’s legislative ethics law, including a recommendation to create a clear ethical prohibition against harassment.
And the nation’s largest professional sports organizations are registering to lobby in Kentucky, with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, and PGA Tour, Inc., all registering multiple lobbyists.
The recommendations from KLEC focus on increasing transparency and effectiveness of the law, and addressing issues that have arisen in recent years.
The Commission’s primary recommendation is to create a clear ethical prohibition against discrimination and harassment by legislators and legislative agents (lobbyists) against legislative employees, legislators, or lobbyists.
The Commission recommends the General Assembly enact statutory language similar to 2018 House Bill 9, which passed the House 86-7, and includes the following:
- Specifically define “discrimination”, “workplace harassment”, and “sexual harassment” as actions that violate either Kentucky or federal statutes, regulations, or case law; define “legislative workplace complaint”.
- Prohibit legislators, lobbyists, and the LRC Director from intentionally engaging in discrimination or workplace harassment against an employee of the legislative branch, legislator, or lobbyist, and provide that a violation is ethical misconduct.
- Permit a legislative employee, legislator, or lobbyist to file a legislative workplace complaint with the Ethics Commission, and authorize the Commission to investigate and proceed upon receipt of a workplace complaint.
- Specify that the complaint process is voluntary, confidential, and is an option that is separate from any other reporting process a complainant may choose.
- Provide an expedited (30 day) process in which the Ethics Commission will determine facts and attempt to bring an immediate end to inappropriate activity, if any is found.
The second recommendation would authorize the Commission to dismiss a complaint via a teleconference call, if a complaint or preliminary inquiry is publicly disclosed by the complainant, or the complainant comments publicly about the complaint.
Implementing this recommendation would help maintain confidentiality of complaints during the confidential preliminary inquiry process, and address an issue that arises, for example, when a complaint is filed in an election campaign, and a complainant attempts to use the complaint process for political purposes.
Under its third recommendation, the Legislative Ethics Commission would have clear authority to adjudicate a complaint filed against a legislator, even if the legislator leaves office after the complaint is filed, as long as the complaint is based upon action that occurred not more than a year prior to the separation from office.
With a fourth recommendation, the Commission suggests amending legislators’ financial disclosure requirements to include a listing of all out-of-state travel associated with the performance of a legislator’s duties. In adopting this recommendation, the Commission said information about legislative travel should be easily available to the public.
Ethics counsel selected for CSG’s Toll Fellowship
Laura Hendrix, the Ethics Commission’s Counsel, was recently selected to participate in The Toll Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Council of State Governments (CSG).
The Toll Fellowship is one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials. The program selects 48 of the nation’s top officials from all three branches of state government. In addition to Hendrix and Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley, this year’s class includes 35 legislators from 26 states, along with Alaska’s Adjutant General, the Director of Idaho’s Office of Emergency Management, Wisconsin’s Medicaid Director, and the Director of Wyoming’s Department of Transportation.
Toll Fellowship alumni include Oregon Governor Kate Brown; Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant; U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (former North Dakota Attorney General); U.S. Representative Diane Black (former Tennessee State Senator); U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa (former Hawaii State Senator); U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga (former Michigan State Representative); U.S. Representative Todd Rokita (former Indiana Secretary of State); and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis (former California State Senator).
The nation’s largest professional sports organizations are registering to lobby in Kentucky, as the sports gambling issue heats up in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Court ruled that a federal gambling statute violated the U.S. Constitution because it illegally empowered the federal government to order states to disallow sports gambling. As a result, that statute is no longer enforceable.
A few weeks ago, the National Football League registered four Kentucky lobbyists, and stated it will lobby on sports wagering issues. That was followed in the last week by lobbying registrations from Major League Baseball, which registered 10 lobbyists; the National Basketball Association, which registered the same 10 lobbyists; and PGA Tour, Inc., which also registered the same 10 lobbyists.
Other recent registrants include: Balanced Health Kentucky; Ellis Park Racecourse; and Equestrian Events, a Lexington non-profit that will lobby on taxation and non-profit status.
In news from around the U.S., indictments of two U.S. Representatives show how legislators can have legal troubles outside their legislative duties, particularly in private business dealings and campaign finance matters.
In the states:
11 of 12 Felony Charges Upheld Against Former Alabama House Speaker;
Alaska ethics reform bill signed into law — lobbyists can no longer buy meals or alcoholic drinks for legislators;
Booze fuels business — and bad behavior — at California Capitol;
Buying influence: Do dark money, lobbyist gifts affect Missouri legislators’ policy?
Former New Mexico state senator gets another year in prison after pleading guilty to charges of pocketing money from his campaign account;
FBI has mounted an extensive investigation into whether former Ohio Speaker broke the law in dealing with payday lending lobbyists; and
South Carolina prosecutor attacks ex-State Rep.: ‘He got paid over $80,000 a year to lie!’