Government & Politics

Kansas lawmakers object to colleague’s dress code for women testifying before committee

Kansas Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairman Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, included in a code of conduct for his panel a dress code for women coming to testify. Some of his fellow lawmakers have blasted the idea.
Kansas Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairman Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, included in a code of conduct for his panel a dress code for women coming to testify. Some of his fellow lawmakers have blasted the idea. The Associated Press

When it comes to dress codes, some say, state lawmakers ought to just — well, they just shouldn’t.

“Don’t tell people how to dress and you’ll be fine,” said Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican.

The latest in Capitol dress code kerfuffles came this week from Kansas Sen. Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. St. John is in south-central Kansas.

As part of a code of conduct for his committee, Holmes said, “low-cut necklines and miniskirts are inappropriate” for women who come to testify. He issued no specific wardrobe restrictions for men.

Holmes couldn’t be reached Friday afternoon.

“I’m just appalled anyone would treat taxpaying Kansans with such disdain,” Clayton said. “These are people we should be accountable to, not the other way around.”

Clayton said she hasn’t noticed a wardrobe problem with visitors to the Capitol, but if Holmes is concerned, there was another way to express it.

“He could have just said that attire is business professional and kept it gender neutral,” she said.

Sen. Pat Pettey, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, said she was “a little offended” that Holmes felt the need to tell women how to dress appropriately but not men.

“Sexist,” she said.

If he’s worried about distractions, she said, why didn’t he rule out wearing costumes in his committee?

“If somebody comes in a clown suit, that’s OK, but if they come in a skirt that someone has determined is too short, that’s not OK,” she said. “Maybe he should keep some smocks handy.”

The Capitol should be open and inviting, Pettey said, and while respect for the place is important, people should know they’re welcome.

“The big thing is we want people to feel they can be part of the process,” she said.

Last August at the Missouri Capitol, following a sexual harassment scandal, the idea of an intern dress code surfaced as part of a discussion among lawmakers about improving a House intern policy.

That set off a firestorm from critics who called it victim-blaming. House Speaker Todd Richardson quickly released a statement putting the idea to rest.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld

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