FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's Republican House speaker will keep his job for now despite a report that he settled a sexual harassment claim with one of his staff members outside of court.
Jeff Hoover told reporters Friday he would not resign. He then met with Republican lawmakers for three hours in a private meeting at the state Capitol. Hoover would not speak with reporters after the meeting. But state Rep. Jonathan Shell, the No. 2 ranking Republican in the House, called the reported settlement "rumor and allegation" and said Hoover has the "full support of this caucus."
But at least one other Republican disagreed.
"Everyone was not in consensus," Republican Rep. Wesley Morgan said. "I have respect for Jeff Hoover, but I do not condone under any circumstances the way he has conducted himself."
The Courier-Journal reported the settlement based on anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not been able to confirm those details. Hoover would not confirm or deny the settlement when asked by a reporter Friday morning. A Louisville attorney identified by the Courier-Journal as representing the victim declined to comment when contacted by the AP.
When the report first surfaced, several Republican lawmakers said they were reserving judgment until they could find out more information. But it appears Hoover did not offer more information during the meeting on Friday. Asked if Hoover confirmed or denied the settlement or offered any further details, Shell said: "That didn't come up."
"We had a discussion on it," Shell said. "As far as addressing any rumors or allegations, we did not."
But Morgan said Hoover told the caucus a legal agreement prohibited him from commenting on the settlement. He added that Hoover said he has "asked for forgiveness from his family." He said lawmakers were told Friday they did not have the authority to remove Hoover because he holds a constitutional office. The only option, he said, is for Hoover to resign or be impeached. He said he is not calling for Hoover's impeachment.
"The last thing you want to do is to bring someone down that you respect," Morgan said. "But I am not going to be part of anything that is immoral or illegal."
Morgan is the first lawmaker to say publicly that he believes the report to be true. Shell described the report of the settlement as "rumor and allegation," echoing the spokesman of the Republican Party of Kentucky who criticized the story as "based on nothing more than anonymous sources and third hand copies of text messages."
But the report threatens to upend the party's legislative agenda. The revelation comes as Hoover is trying to muster enough votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass a bill that would make substantial changes to the state's public pension system, one of the worst-funded retirement plans in the country. The bill is a priority of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has vowed to call a special legislative session by the end of the year to vote on it.
The bill is unpopular with state workers and public school teachers, who have filled town hall meetings with lawmakers across the state to object to a proposal that would eventually shut down the pension system in favor of a 401(k)-style plan.
Friday morning, Hoover told the Kentucky Hospital Association the bill did not have support to pass but said "I'm convinced we can get something done."
Democrats did not call for Hoover's resignation. House Democratic Leader Rocky Adkins declined to comment on the allegations, but added "the General Assembly has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any form of harassment."
All state lawmakers have had to attend annual sexual harassment training since 2013, when three female staffers filed sexual harassment lawsuits against several Democratic lawmakers that led to the resignation of former Rep. John Arnold. The Legislative Research Commission eventually agreed to a $400,000 settlement with the women.
Hoover has been in the House of Representatives for 27 years, working for much of that time in the Republican minority. He was the minority leader for 16 years before being chosen speaker in January after voters elected a Republican majority in the House for the first time in nearly 100 years. As speaker, he pushed through legislation that restricted abortion, limited the power of labor unions and allowed for the creation of charter schools. He is married and has three children.