Kansas Lawmakers Moving To Ban State-Paid Harassment Claims
Kansas legislators are moving to ban taxpayer-funded settlements of sexual harassment claims against state officials and block non-disclosure agreements in harassment cases.
House and Senate negotiators have agreed to include a provision in budget legislation that would prohibit any state agency from using their funds to settle sexual harassment claims against elected officials or state employees. They also agreed to include a ban on using state funds to pursue non-disclosure agreements in harassment cases.
The negotiators were meeting Tuesday to work on the final version of legislation revising the $16 billion-plus budgets approved by lawmakers last year for the state's current fiscal year and the next fiscal year, beginning in July. As part of the budget, the anti-harassment provisions would expire in July 2019, but lawmakers could consider a permanent law next year.
"They're great initiatives for transparency," said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Republican. "It's a good, positive answer from the Kansas Legislature in regards to the #MeToo movement."
The GOP-controlled Legislature hopes to finish its work this week on budget changes, which are likely to add millions of dollars of new spending. Top Republicans also are pursuing tax cuts to offset a "windfall" in state tax collections resulting from changes in federal tax laws late last year.
The state's economy has improved. Also, lawmakers last year stabilized the state budget by increasing income taxes, reversing past tax cuts championed by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback that had been followed by persistent budget woes.
The state reported Tuesday that it collected $66 million more in taxes than anticipated in April, a surplus of 7.6 percent. It was the 11th consecutive month that revenues have exceeded expectations and the longest streak of monthly surpluses since at least 1989, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press.
The budget legislation includes a mix of spending and policy, including the anti-harassment provisions. The House included them in a spending bill it approved Saturday, but the Senate never debated them.
The Kansas Legislature, like many across the nation, told The Associated Press it has no records of sexual misconduct complaints against lawmakers since 2008. But a former top legislative aide went public last fall with allegations that a lawmaker had asked her for sex and that female college interns had regularly served as designated drivers for drunken lawmakers.
Leaders updated the Legislature's anti-harassment policy in February. Their action came days after Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer issued an executive order mandating annual sexual harassment training for roughly 20,000 executive branch employees under his control.
Clayton and one of the budget negotiators, Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, acknowledged a concern with a ban on state-funded settlements that a state official who must pay with private funds could claim poverty, so that a victim doesn't get compensated.
But Kelly said, "We just should not be holding taxpayers responsible for our inappropriate behavior."
The budget negotiators were working to reconcile dozens of differences between the House and Senate on spending items large and small. Both chambers want to restore some past cuts in operating budgets for state universities, something that could add as much as $18 million in spending.