Legislature looks to update harassment policy

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SHERIDAN — As more and more news reports reveal sexual misconduct in a variety of industries across the country, the Wyoming Legislature will look to update its sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policy and trainings next month.

Legislative Services Office director Matt Obrecht sent a memo to the Wyoming Management Council Dec. 8 regarding potential policy and training revisions.

“I don’t think that the atmosphere at the Wyoming Legislature is pervasive with sexually inappropriate conduct or comments,” Obrecht said. “I do think that this is the appropriate time to re-evaluate and make sure we’ve got policies in place to protect our members and staff and other people who are involved in the legislative process.”

In recent months, state and national legislators have been accused of sexual misconduct. Some legislators have stepped down or plan to step down from their jobs as a result. Last month, Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray was accused of sexual assault. Murray has denied the allegations. Obrecht said the LSO began thinking about revisions earlier this fall and set up a team of four attorneys in the LSO legal department to base revisions off policies in other states.

The Legislature’s current sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policy hasn’t changed since 2002.

The LSO recommendations included creating two policies, one for complaints against legislative members and a separate policy for complaints against legislative staff; setting up a clear reporting system for third parties, which is not addressed under the current policy; and creating a process for outside investigation, which would likely be used for complaints against senior legislators or LSO officials.

The LSO also recommended having training every year instead of every other year and making the training specific to the legislative setting.

According to the LSO, there have been six reports of sexually inappropriate actions or comments by Wyoming legislators since 2008, including three in the past two years. None of them resulted in expulsion, and Obrecht said a state legislator has never been expelled as a result of harassment or discriminatory behavior.

Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, expressed disappointment in the six reports since 2008.

“I would hope that in Wyoming, we would set the bar very high and be the example of what to do,” he said.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, voiced support for the new proposals.

“If they want to revisit the rules and assure that they are as good as they can be, then I’m all on board with that,” Kinskey said. “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity, and there’s just no room for harassment or discrimination.”

Kinner said training should occur every year

“I think we should probably have it be annual, like businesses, so that it’s first and foremost on everyone’s minds for different situations that could arise,” Kinner said.

Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, supported the policy revisions but said he was fine with biannual training, as he thought it was sufficiently thorough.

Legislators received mandatory training in 2015 and 2017 and will now have it again Feb. 10, two days before the official legislative session starts.

Previous training sessions lasted about two hours and were a combination of lecture, video and handouts. Usually, a human resources specialist from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office and a representative from the National Conference of State Legislatures spoke broadly about legislative harassment and discrimination. The LSO director or legislative council would then go through the policy.

Kinskey said previous training sessions were intense and informative.

“It’s the real deal,” Kinskey said. “If every workplace in America did what Legislature does, it’d be a better place.”

This year, legislative leaders will help set the tone for the meeting and hopefully appropriate legislative conduct going forward, Obrecht said. The Management Council will vote on the new policy revisions in the week before the legislative session starts.

All three local legislators said they hadn’t heard any scuttlebutt about inappropriate behavior.

“I have never heard any innuendos or any rumours of those kind of things happening in the Wyoming Legislature,” Madden, who has served in the Legislature for 12 years, said. “I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but it isn’t a prevalent thing.”

Still, there is always room for improvement.

 “The (LSO has) done things the right way, and my hat’s off to them for re-examining whether it can be done the best way,” Kinskey said.

By |January 2nd, 2018|

About the Author:

Ryan Patterson joined The Sheridan Press staff as a reporter covering education, business and sports in August 2017. He's a native of Wisconsin and graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor's in journalism in May 2017. Email him at: ryan.patterson@thesheridanpress.com.

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