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Kansas Lawmakers Receive Recommendations For Combatting Sexual Harassment In Legislature

Dan Skinner
Kansas Public Radio/File photo

A Missouri nonprofit has released a list of recommendations it says will help combat and prevent sexual harassment at the Kansas Statehouse.

The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation, which promotes gender equality and advocates for getting more women involved in politics, worked with state lawmakers, legal experts and others to draft updates to the Legislature’s outdated harassment policy.

The move comes in response to allegations of widespread sexual harassment at the Kansas Statehouse.

Women’s Foundation CEO and President Wendy Doyle said in a news release Friday that the Legislature “lacks the policies, procedures and coordinated approach necessary to prevent sexual harassment from happening, and to respond effectively when it does.”

The Associated Press reports the Legislature’s current policy--which hasn't been updated since 1994-- says that harassment complaints are brought first to an employee's supervisor or Legislative Administrative Services. The policy doesn’t require an independent review of a complaint. It also says complaints are to be handled as discreetly as possible. The foundation recommends prohibiting secret settlements in sexual harassment cases.

Other recommendations include:

  • Creating a non-fraternization policy for interns, legislative staff, elected officials and lobbyists. Banning gift giving to interns.
  • Updating the definition of sexual harassment, providing clear examples of sexual harassment retaliation and revising sexual harassment policies.
  • Requiring elected officials, legislative staff, interns and lobbyists to actively participate in an annual training on civil discourse, cultural competence and sexual harassment.

View the full list of recommendations here

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, asked the Women’s Foundation to review the policies and make recommendations because it has helped other state legislatures deal with similar issues.

“We’ll make sure that everyone knows it’s behavior that’s unacceptable and we’ll protect people in the future, and make sure that everyone has a way, if they have suffered from any kind of abusive remarks, that they have a way to report it,” she says.

Wagle is the chair of the Legislative Coordinating Council, which reviewed the recommendations for the first time at its meeting Friday. Member Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, requested that the council take action to implement mandatory harassment training during the upcoming session. Wagle said the legality of making the training mandatory is unclear, but said some organizations are being vetted to provide voluntary training next year.

When asked about setting a deadline for action, Wagle said it’s a process that will take time.

“This isn’t something you do overnight. This is something that’s very carefully considered, and it’s not something you can implement in one step,” she said. “It’s gonna take a lot of time to fix the culture, to educate… it’s going to take time to analyze what our specific situation is here in Kansas, and we will implement things as soon as we’re confident that’s what fixes what our needs are here in this state.”

Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said he takes issue with the idea that the “culture” in the Statehouse is to blame.

“We have a problem, but I don’t think it’s quote-unquote culture of the Legislature to harass interns and staff,” he said.

The council will discuss the list again at a later meeting. The Women's Foundation says it will help the Legislature implement new policies.

--Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Copyright 2017 KMUW | NPR for Wichita

Nadya joined KMUW in May 2015 (which will sound more impressive when it’s not June 2015) after a year at a newspaper in western North Dakota, where she did not pick up an accent.