Kansas legislative leaders have directed their staff to work with the Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation to update the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy.
The move comes amid recent allegations by several former legislative staffers, lobbyists and campaign workers about the prevalence of harassment at the Statehouse.
Abbie Hodgson, a former staffer in the House Democratic leader’s office, said she was particularly troubled by the “common” practice of male lawmakers requiring female interns to chauffer them to after-hours events.
The Legislative Coordinating Council, a bipartisan committee that includes House and Senate leaders, authorized a review of the Legislature’s 23-year-old harassment policy so that it can act on recommendations for updating it at its meeting in December.
“Not only do we want to look at our policy, we want to work with the regents on policies for interns,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, the Wichita Republican who chairs the LCC, referring to the Kansas Board of Regents, the agency that oversees the state university system.
“I think that having the assistance of the Women’s Foundation will be very helpful,” she said.
Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the foundation, which helped Missouri lawmakers address harassment issues in 2015, said it is likely that the review process will result in recommendations for changes.
“Kansas policymakers must take further steps to confront, educate and correct the work culture to ensure all interns and employees can thrive,” Doyle said in a statement distributed to LCC members.
Doyle said policymakers must confront harassment rather than accepting it as “part of our political culture.”
“Sexual harassment remains a widespread and urgent epidemic and we need to get serious about solving it,” she said.
Current House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, has said all members of his caucus will receive sexual harassment training.
Also, Burdett Loomis, an emeritus professor of political science who leads the University of Kansas intern program at the Statehouse, has said the issue will addressed with students selected for the 2018 session.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.