- Associated Press - Thursday, December 29, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The speaker-elect of the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday announced plans for an investigation into a payment to settle a complaint by a former legislative assistant.

Republican Rep. Charles McCall of Atoka said the bipartisan House Rules Committee will begin investigating the $44,500 paid to the former assistant and her attorney, the allegations that led to the settlement and the House process for dealing with allegations of sexual harassment.

The woman alleged she was fired after reporting sexual harassment by GOP Rep. Dan Kirby.

“There is simply no excuse for sexual harassment by lawmakers at the Capitol,” McCall said in a statement. “Workplace misconduct by lawmakers will simply not be tolerated under my leadership.”

The committee will also review the authority of the House to use operational funds to settle claims.

McCall said he’ll authorize the investigation when he’s formally elected speaker when the House meets Jan. 3 for Organizational Day.

Kirby resigned after the allegations and payments were revealed, but later rescinded the resignation. On Thursday, he issued a statement denying the sexual harassment allegation.

“After speaking with my family and friends, I sent a letter rescinding my resignation so that I might have an opportunity to clear my name and complete my term,” Kirby said.

He said he learned of the settlement Dec. 21 when it was first reported in The Oklahoman.

“I have never seen the settlement agreement nor do I have any knowledge of the terms contained in the settlement agreement,” Kirby said.

An attorney for the House previously said the sexual harassment complaint against Kirby was settled without his knowledge or input and that there was no admission of wrongdoing, adding that the agreement was approved by then-House Speaker Jeff Hickman and House leaders.

McCall’s announcement came moments after the chairman of the state Democratic Party and Democratic Reps. David Perryman of Chickasha and Emily Virgin of Norman called for an investigation.

“We commend him for taking that step,” Perryman said. “We would prefer an independent investigation, but the bipartisan committee is a step in the right direction.”

Virgin said the answers need to be provided soon because the start of the Legislative session is about a month away and lawmakers will need to focus on issues that include a nearly $900 million budget shortfall.

“The public needs answers as soon as possible … so that we can get the information before we start dealing with the budget and all the other issues we that have to deal with during session,” Virgin said.

McCall said all findings by the committee will be made public.

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