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An aerial view of the Wisconsin state Capitol building.

PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Employees of the Wisconsin Assembly will attend a mandatory staff meeting on Tuesday to discuss sexual harassment prevention and response as the state Legislature continues to update its policies and implementation.

The meeting, scheduled last week, will be led by the Legislature's human resources director, Amanda Jorgenson. Attendance by all Assembly staff is required and will be documented. Lawmakers who are in the Capitol building are encouraged to attend, according to an email sent by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

"The Assembly takes reports of sexual harassment very seriously and we want to make sure all staff are comfortable and familiar with how to make a report and explain the process that occurs if one is made," Vos wrote in the email.

At the meeting, Jorgenson will discuss the policy and answer questions, according to the email.

Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk said earlier this month the Senate does not currently offer training on the Senate's sexual harassment policy, but it may be added "in the near future."

Dan Romportl, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, confirmed on Monday that is still accurate. Romportl said Fitzgerald's office will meet with the office of Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-LaCrosse, later this week to discuss plans.  

More than a dozen state legislators throughout the country have been accused of sexual harassment and assault as a rapidly growing number of women and men come forward with stories of improper behavior. The floodgates burst open with a New York Times report on decades' worth of allegations against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, followed by the #MeToo social media movement and a list of allegations across industries and party lines that grows every day.

No Wisconsin lawmakers have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct in the context of the current spate of allegations.

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, on Monday called for a "complete overhaul of the training, reporting, and settlement procedures for sexual harassment and assault in the Wisconsin legislature." Wachs is one of several Democrats seeking to run against Gov. Scott Walker in 2018.

He accused Walker and Republican legislative leaders of dropping the ball, arguing there is "not a clearly defined, transparent process for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace."

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"First, we must mandate new hire and annual sexual harassment training for all legislative staff, personnel, and lawmakers. Second, we must create a clear, simple system for reporting sexual harassment that protects those who report from retaliation. And we must provide transparency for the taxpayers on any settlements paid by the legislature," Wachs said in a statement from his campaign.

The Legislature should not wait for revelations of sexual harassment to be made public before taking action, Wachs said.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Wachs had "never approached the Speaker about any of these concerns in the past."

"It’s unfortunate that he’s resorting to press release politics for his gubernatorial campaign on such a serious issue," Beyer said.

Beyer added that the Assembly's system for reporting harassment will be affirmed at the upcoming staff meeting, which she said was scheduled in consultation with Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.

"Every new Assembly employee must undergo mandatory training with the chief clerk and Human Resources director. In addition, every new legislator has special training through Legislative Council," Beyer said in an email. "The Assembly leadership understands the importance of workplace safety and will continue to provide the necessary training and support for staff, legislators and personnel."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.