TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Legislature should have an independent, outside attorney review sexual harassment complaints, require annual training even for lobbyists, ban gifts to interns and create a “non-fraternization policy,” a Missouri-based foundation recommended Friday.
The Women’s Foundation outlined more than two dozen proposals ahead of a Statehouse news conference with Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle. The foundation promotes gender equity, and top lawmakers, led by Wagle, turned to the group’s attorneys last month to review the Legislature’s existing policy, which hasn’t changed since 1994.
The foundation is also proposing that the Legislature ban secret settlements of sexual harassment claims, prohibit arbitration in sexual harassment cases and annually report data about the genders of interns, legislative leaders and members of committees, state boards and commissions. It says the sexual harassment policy should be reviewed each year.
Wendy Doyle, the foundation’s president and CEO, said the Legislature lacks the policies and “coordinated approach” necessary to prevent sexual harassment. She said those “significant gaps” also prevent the Legislature from responding effectively when sexual harassment occurs.
“These significant gaps must be addressed to ensure a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment for staff, interns and everyone who works in the state Capitol,” Doyle said. “This is not a partisan issue, and it is not unique to Kansas.”
The foundation also recommended having more women as legislative leaders. It has designed a long-term program to increase the number of women who are appointed to local boards and commissions in hopes of creating a pipeline for women in politics, Doyle said.
Wagle, a Wichita Republican, is the only woman among the Legislature’s top eight leaders, positions filled by elections among fellow lawmakers. She is the first female Senate president; no woman has served as House speaker.
Legislative leaders initiated the sexual harassment policy review after the ex-chief of staff for a former Democratic leader said publicly that a lawmaker once asked her for sex in 2015 and that female college-student interns regularly served as after-hour designated drivers for intoxicated lawmakers in 2016.
“Over the years, I do know of complaints that were serious that were taken to our HR department and were dealt with immediately,” Wagle said during the news conference without being more specific.
Wagle has previously described Legislative Administrative Services as the human resources department for lawmakers. The Legislature’s current policy says harassment complaints are brought first to an employee’s supervisor or Legislative Administrative Services.
The policy does not require an independent review of a complaint, and it does not mandate regular training about sexual harassment for lawmakers. It also says complaints are to be handled as discreetly as possible, and it does not limit interactions between interns and others.
Wagle and fellow legislative leaders met Friday afternoon to review the proposals. She said ahead of the meeting that the first step for lawmakers is to start the sexual harassment training.
“I do believe education is one of the first things we can do,” Wagle said. “We’ve had a number of organizations call who are available to help us with training of staff, legislators, interns.”
Wagle later said the lawmakers’ legal staff is not sure legislative leaders have the authority to make the training mandatory, but they can move ahead with voluntary training.
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, initially called for mandatory training but added, “I think most legislators and people who are involved in the Legislature would willingly participate.”
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