Government & Politics

Kansas City group offers ideas to rid Kansas Capitol of sexual harassment

The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation will detail its recommendations for addressing sexual harassment in the Kansas Capitol at a Friday news conference in Topeka. The group will be joined by Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle (above), a Wichita Republican.
The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation will detail its recommendations for addressing sexual harassment in the Kansas Capitol at a Friday news conference in Topeka. The group will be joined by Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle (above), a Wichita Republican. AP file photo

A group working with the Kansas Senate president is urging state legislators to adopt policies to combat reported sexual harassment in the Capitol.

The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation has drawn up a list of recommendations that include:

▪ Mandatory training sessions, conducted yearly, on “civil discourse, cultural competence, and sexual harassment” for all interns, elected officials, lobbyists and legislative staff.

▪ A policy that allows victims to anonymously report their allegations.

▪ Outside legal counsel to investigate sexual harassment reports.

▪ A “non-fraternization policy” to protect interns.

Joined by Kansas Sen. Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, the foundation will detail its recommendations at a Friday news conference in Topeka before submitting them to the Legislative Coordinating Council, which Wagle chairs.

“It’s up to legislators to decide how to move forward” with the proposals, foundation president Wendy Doyle told The Star on Thursday.

In October, The Star revealed the allegations of several legislative interns and other young women regarding sexual harassment in the statehouse. “A regular occurrence,” one said. An intern just out of high school recalled a legislator asking, “How hard would you slap me if I tried to kiss you?”

The Women’s Foundation has experience in dealing with elected officials on building gender equity in politics and the workplace. Two years ago the organization advised Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson on reforms after The Star uncovered a culture of harassment in Jefferson City.

“We’ve seen tremendous progress there,” Doyle said.

The foundation hopes for similar progress in Topeka working with Wagle, who asked the organization to review the Legislature’s current policies.

The review found that rules on workplace conduct at the statehouse had not been updated in 23 years, Doyle said. Interns during orientation are instructed on recognizing and reporting sexual harassment, but lawmakers are not required to undergo training.

Nor are elected officials banned from fraternizing with interns. One former Democratic staffer has said that during the 2016 session female interns were asked to serve as designated drivers for male legislators who had been drinking.

“Sexual harassment cannot be tolerated,” Wagle said in a news release, “not in our workplaces, not in our communities and certainly not here in the Capitol.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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