Women's Foundation proposes sexual harassment regulations for Statehouse

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri-based group is recommending new training and rules to revamp sexual harassment policies at the Kansas Statehouse.

The Women’s Foundation released its proposals ahead of a Statehouse news conference Friday with Senate President Susan Wagle. The foundation promotes gender equity.

Senator Wagle enlisted the help of the group to review the legislature’s current sexual harassment policy.

“After deeply troubling reports of sexual harassment and misconduct, I was committed to taking action,” the senator said.

During the news conference, Women’s Foundation President and CEO Wendy Doyle, said the group found many flaws in the current guidelines written in 1994. It says that legislative employees' complaints about harassment can be brought to supervisors or Legislative Administrative Services.

“There’s currently no requirement that allegations of sexual harassment be investigated in a timely or independent manner,” Doyle said.

Providing for independent, outside legal counsel to conduct investigations is just one on a list of recommendations, organized into 4 categories Doyle explained.

“Ethics and workplace culture, accountability and monitoring, education and awareness, and victim resources,” she said.

The Women's Foundation also said Friday that the Legislature needs to create what the group calls a "non-fraternization" policy covering interns, legislative staff, lawmakers and lobbyists and ban gifts to interns.

However, Senator Wagle and Doyle agreed where they would like to begin - annual training for elected officials, legislative staff, interns, and lobbyist.

“We believe that education is one of the first things that we can do early in session,” the senator said.

Doyle said they would like to focus on the interns who frequent the Capitol.

“We have a special interest in making they understand what sexual harassment is and isn’t,” Doyle added.

The two also agreed that a more diverse workplace is needed. The recommendations also call for more female legislative leaders.

“Sexual harassment is a widespread epidemic especially in male dominated workplaces,” Doyle explained.

By teaming together, they hope to soon create change.

“…and help ensure all people men and women who working in the capitol are treated with the dignity and respect befitting of the great state of Kansas,” Senator Wagle said.

The recommendations were also presented to the Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council Friday afternoon.

They’re expected to act on them at a later date.