TOPEKA — A broad executive order Gov. Jeff Colyer signed Monday will mandate sexual harassment prevention training for many of Kansas’ executive-branch employees, require state agencies to review and update their policies every three years and ensure those organizations’ employees, interns and contractors review and sign policies.
The executive order aimed at preventing sexual harassment was Colyer’s first and marked his foray into state policy discussions. He was inaugurated last week after his predecessor, Sam Brownback, was confirmed for a job in President Donald Trump’s administration.
“We want to make sure that we’re on top of this, that it is evolving, that we’re dealing with it,” Colyer said.
Colyer’s executive order applies to agencies directly under his supervision and would not include some boards and commissions, such as the Kansas Board of Regents, which governs seven universities and more than 20 community colleges. Colyer is expected to send letters to those state agencies asking that they adopt similar measures.
Sexual harassment came to the forefront of Statehouse conversations this fall when former legislative and campaign staffers spoke out against political leaders.
“Sexual harassment is something that has been in the headlines, and it’s something that has happened in the past across the United States,” Colyer said. “And I think that we can do a better job and that we will respect all Kansans, and so that’s why protecting our employees, making sure they have a professional environment is the first thing that we’re doing in our government.”
Colyer said his goal was to “try to do the right thing even when nobody’s looking,” echoing remarks he made after his inauguration.
Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Kansas City-based Women’s Foundation, said her organization was pleased to see sexual harassment addressed by the head of state government.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the mandatory training that’s going to be in place, the education and the commitment to creating a safe and professional work environment,” Doyle said.
Doyle said Colyer had made Kansas a leader among other state governments on mandatory training.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, asked the Women’s Foundation late last year to provide recommendations and help legislative leaders update the policy governing those who work in the Statehouse. The organization released a list of necessary changes in late December, and the Legislative Coordinating Council took them up to review.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican, said that review was still ongoing and leaders had consulted others inside and outside state government to help update the policy, maintained by the LCC.
“Many of us believe it’s incomplete and not clear enough on process to be followed when there is an incident,” Hineman said.
Hineman said he thought Colyer’s announcement was a “good step.” Many legislators attended prevention training last month, though legislative leaders say it’s difficult to make that mandatory. Hineman said his biggest “takeaway” from the training was the power dynamics at play in interpersonal relationships.
“It all goes back to respect for other individuals and empathy for other individuals, and to the extent that someone in power does not respect other parties, then there is potential for abuse,” Hineman said. “So in ways, this goes beyond sexual harassment and to harassment to other individuals who are subject to the power of people above them.”
Wagle said she was “very pleased” to see Colyer’s executive orders, and state officials should make sure their policies discourage harassment and allow for victims to report.
“I was thankful he made that very clear in his first week,” Wagle said.