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Government

After Recent Allegations, Kansas Legislative Leaders Call For Update Of Sexual Harassment Policy

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Stephen Koranda
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Kansas Public Radio/File photo

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.

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Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.