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Eight members of Kentucky GOP say speaker must be removed after harassment settlement revealed

FILE - In this Jan. 3, 2017 file photo, Jeff Hoover looks up to the cheers from the gallery following his swearing in Frankfort, Ky. Kentucky’s House speaker, who said he would resign his leadership position after acknowledging he settled a sexual harassment claim with a female legislative staffer, now says he’s reconsidering that decision. Hoover announced his resignation in November, saying at the time that it was “effective immediately.” But his resignation is not official until he submits it to the House of Representatives. The House convened Tuesday, but Hoover did not resign. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)
Timothy D. Easely/Associated Press/File
Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover announced his resignation in November, saying at the time that it was “effective immediately.” But his resignation is not official until he submits it to the House of Representatives, and the House convened Tuesday without Hoover submitting his resignation.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Eight Republican lawmakers have asked for Kentucky’s GOP House speaker to be removed from office after he secretly settled a sexual harassment complaint with a woman in his office.

The formal disciplinary charges filed Wednesday include sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and using taxpayer resources to hide the allegations from the public.

Jeff Hoover’s actions, the lawmakers allege, ‘‘violated statute, brought great harm to the body’s ability to conduct the people’s business, and irreparably damaged the reputation of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.’’

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‘‘Upon finding these charges to be true, we respectfully ask the committee to recommend the expulsion of (Hoover) from the House of Representatives,’’ the lawmakers wrote in the complaint.

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Hoover said he has not seen the complaint and cannot comment on it. He has denied sexual harassment, but said he sent inappropriate yet consensual text messages to a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus.

In November, Hoover appeared to be one of dozens of powerful men across the country toppled by allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. He announced he would resign as speaker but keep his seat in the legislature. But Tuesday, Hoover said he was only temporarily stepping aside as speaker ‘‘until further notice,’’ leaving open the possibility he could return to power.

The settlement signed by Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers was handled outside of court and paid for with private money to avoid publicity. But the Courier Journal exposed the settlement, creating an uproar in a state that was transitioning to Republican rule after decades of dominance by Democrats.

The complaint was signed by Republican state Representatives Addia Wuchner, Kim King, Russell Webber, Stan Lee, Robert Benvenuti, Phil Moffett, Tim Moore and Joe Fischer. It says Hoover sent text messages to the woman requesting photos of her in a ‘‘black lace g string,’’ saying they were ‘‘for my eyes only’’ and promising to delete them.

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It also says Hoover created a hostile work environment by using his office to ‘‘conduct interviews and intimidate witnesses (who) had knowledge of his illicit relationship.’’

‘‘We have a duty and a responsibility to discipline our members,’’ Moffett said. ‘‘We can’t allow cover-ups and sexual harassment and hostile work environments and things like that to happen It’s absolutely unacceptable.’’

The complaint was filed under new House rules adopted Tuesday, which require a special committee of three Republicans and three Democrats to investigate. Republican Representative Jerry Miller, as chairman of the State Government Committee, will chair the special committee and will only vote to break a tie.

‘‘It’s not my intention to drag it on a day longer than it has to,’’ Miller said. ‘‘I want to get it done quickly as possible.’’

House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo has filed a lawsuit claiming Hoover and the woman in question had ‘‘physical, sexual encounters’’ and that he used money from prominent political donors to pay for the settlement. But the woman involved in the relationship, through her attorney, said none of that was true. Hoover has also denied having a sexual relationship with the woman.

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Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers who signed the settlement say a confidentiality clause prevents them from discussing it publicly. House GOP leaders have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to determine if lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to pay the settlement, which could violate state law.

Wednesday, Hoover attended the annual anti-sexual harassment training required of all House members. He declined to speak with reporters. The training, conducted by the Legislative Research Commission, was closed to the public. The Associated Press objected to the closure.

Commission Director David Byerman said the state’s open meetings law doesn’t apply because lawmakers are not ‘‘conducting legislative business.’’

‘‘I think that having video cameras or newspaper reporters there is going to make it less likely they will be able to ask candid questions,’’ Byerman said.

Republican Governor Matt Bevin has publicly urged Hoover to give up his position as speaker and his seat in the legislature. Bevin told a WKYX radio on Tuesday he still expects Hoover to resign this week.

‘‘Well he’s very misinformed, but beyond that I’m not going to say anything,’’ Hoover said.

A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.