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Kansas governor to require annual sexual harassment training for executive branch

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signs an executive order on sexual harassment as members of his Cabinet watch, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

— All employees and interns working for Kansas executive branch agencies will be required to undergo annual sexual harassment training, new Gov. Jeff Colyer announced Monday.

Colyer signed an executive order during a Statehouse news conference after outlining its contents during a Cabinet meeting. The order applies to roughly 20,000 state government employees who work for departments or agencies under the governor's direct control.

The new Republican governor's first executive order since taking office last week follows a wave of allegations of misconduct against prominent figures in multiple industries that began with a New York Times expose of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Legislators in nine other states have been forced to step down over allegations of misconduct during the past seven months, including an Arizona House member who was expelled last week.

"For me, sexual harassment is not acceptable," Colyer said during his news conference. "We respect every Kansan. They are going to be accorded the dignity and respect that they deserve."

Colyer, formerly the state's lieutenant governor, replaced former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, who resigned to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Kansas' executive branch has not had a single anti-harassment policy across all agencies. Colyer's order is designed to supplement existing policies, and it requires agencies under his control to review their policies at least once every three years.

He said administration officials still are working out the details of how employees might be disciplined if, for example, they refused to participate in the annual training. But he said he expects the policies outlined in his order to be "widely accepted."

"We will be fierce about it, absolutely," Colyer said.

Colyer's order comes as the top state lawmakers are reviewing the Legislature's anti-harassment policy, which has been in place since 1994 and hasn't required annual training for lawmakers, their employees or interns. Legislative leaders held multiple, voluntary training sessions since December.

Some legislators have questioned whether the group training they received was in-depth enough. Rep. Annie Kuether, a Topeka Democrat, said the Legislature and executive branch agencies need "more than one general meeting" for training.

But she added, "At least they're even discussing it."

Top lawmakers initiated a review of the Legislature's sexual harassment policy review after the ex-chief of staff for a former Democratic leader said publicly in October that a lawmaker once asked her for sex in 2015. She described harassment as "rampant" and said female college-student interns regularly served as after-hour designated drivers for intoxicated lawmakers in 2016.

And in December, a private health insurer that helps manage the state's Medicaid health coverage for the poor and disabled fired an employee who'd previously been accused of sexual misconduct while working as a state social services administrator.

Both legislative leaders and Colyer's office have worked on anti-harassment policies with the Women's Foundation, a Kansas City, Missouri-based nonprofit group that promotes gender equity. Foundation President and CEO Wendy Doyle said Colyer's executive order makes Kansas among a handful of states "in a leadership role" on combatting the problem.

"This is a great first step," Doyle said after participating in Colyer's news conference.

While Colyer's order affects agencies and workers across state government, he can't set policies for the offices of other elected officials, state universities or independent boards and regulatory commissions. But Colyer said his office would contact them nevertheless and encourage them to adopt similar policies.

The order also requires state agencies to notify state contractors of their anti-sexual harassment policies. It also says that allegations involving an elected official or agency head may be investigated by "independent legal counsel."

Meanwhile, House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said he is expecting more discussions among top lawmakers about updating the Legislature's policies later this week.

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