Politics & Government

Women’s Foundation to review Kansas Legislature’s sex harassment policy

The Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation will review the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy and make recommendations following recent allegations.

The organization, which works "to promote equity and opportunity for women of all ages," will report to legislative leaders in December any changes it thinks are needed in the Legislature’s harassment policy, which has been in place for more than 20 years.

The Women’s Foundation provided assistance to the Missouri Legislature after allegations of harassment in 2015.

"Kansas policymakers must take further steps to confront, educate and correct the work culture to ensure all interns and employees can thrive. Rather than accepting sexual harassment as part of our political culture, policymakers must confront sexual harassment and listen to victims," Wendy Doyle, Women’s Foundation president and CEO, said in a statement.

In the past week, a former legislative staffer, a former lobbyist and former campaign worker have shared allegations of sexual misconduct. Among them, Abbie Hodgson, a former Democratic legislative staffer, alleged that she had been propositioned by a lawmaker in 2015 and that lawmakers were relying on female interns as designated drivers after lobbyist-hosted cocktail hours.

In the wake of her comments, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, announced all House Democrats would receive sexual harassment training.

What policy changes the Women’s Foundation may propose are unclear. Doyle called for creating a culture that encourages victims to report without fear of retaliation and said leaders must work to dismantle "the culture that perpetuates sexual harassment."

"In male-dominated industries, sexual harassment is so pervasive that it is often mislabeled as harmless joking. This is an issue that must be owned. Men must hold each other accountable – this requires bold action," Doyle said.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she contacted the Women’s Foundation to make sure the Legislature has the right sexual harassment policy.

She said if any of the accusations that she read in newspapers would have been brought to her attention, they would have been thoroughly investigated.

"The same goes for any claims that are made in the future," Wagle said.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman