By Danny Restivo (posted 2/9/18)
Less than a week after taking office, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer signed an executive order stipulating all state employees within the executive branch must receive annual sexual harassment training.
“It is incumbent upon us, the leaders of this state to attack this issue head on,” Colyer said after he signed the order on Monday. “We now have the opportunity to look in the mirror and see whether we can do a better job of protecting state employees. This executive order is an important first step toward ensuring Kansas employees are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Colyer’s mandate affects 20,000 state employees in various executive branch agencies. The move comes after he was sworn into the Governor’s office following former Governor Sam Brownback’s confirmation as the U.S. Ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom. While Kansas had harassment policies in place, the new order creates a uniform policy across executive agencies that requires annual training.
Colyer’s order occurs as a number of high profile sexual harassment scandals pervade politics. In the past year, several congressional lawmakers and a host of state lawmakers have faced serious allegations of sexual harassment. According to the Associated Press, at least 14 legislators in 10 states resigned from office in 2017, while 16 others in more than a dozen states face repercussions or deny the allegations. The #metoo movement and the rising furor over misogynistic behavior has sparked executive and legislative branches within state government to revisit policies and procedure regarding misconduct in public office. According to the Associated Press, roughly three-fourths of states currently have at least one legislative chamber updating sexual harassment policy, or developing proposals to review whether changes are needed.
In Kentucky, Jeff Hoover, the former Republican speaker of the house, resigned in early January following a report he had secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a woman on his staff. The new Kentucky house speaker has appointed a committee to devise a formal system to address complaints. In Arizona, Republican Rep. Don Shooter was voted out of the Arizona House in late January following a report ordered by legislative leaders of his own party showing he engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment toward two women.
Shooter, Hoover, and a number of other harassment scandals at the state level have cast a large shadow over legislatures throughout the country. While the US House of Representatives voted to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment policies, state policies will likely vary from congressional rules and procedures. However, public anger over harassment allegations will certainly fuel stronger action from lawmakers.