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Assembly to take up sexual harassment training resolution

The State Assembly and Senate are changing their policies to require sexual harassment training.

All Assembly lawmakers, officers and staff will be required to participate in anti-harassment and ethics training every two years under a bipartisan resolution the Assembly plans to take up Tuesday.

The move comes amidst a heightened national focus on sexual harassment after allegations of sexual misconduct brought down dozens of powerful men in entertainment, business, media and politics.

One Wisconsin lawmaker, Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee, was stripped of his committee assignments after allegations became public that he drunkenly kissed two women without their consent. Zepnick, who admitted to the behavior, has rebuffed calls for resignation, but is no longer participating in private caucus meetings with fellow Democrats.

The resolution is co-sponsored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. Both leaders said last year that records related to claims of sexual harassment occurring within their chamber would not be released to the public in order to protect victims’ privacy.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported last month there have been four sexual harassment complaints filed in the Legislature in the last 10 years, including one against former Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee, that resulted in a $75,000 settlement to a former aide.

The Senate isn’t taking up a resolution mandating sexual harassment training, but Chief Clerk Jeff Renk said Senate leadership has already agreed to move forward with sexual harassment training in this session and will adopt a new policy in the session beginning next year that will require training every two years.

Starting later this month Assembly and Senate legislative staff will receive three hours of sexual harassment training, Renk said. Senators will receive a separate one-hour training during a yet-to-be-scheduled caucus meeting.

Previously, the Senate hasn’t required sexual harassment training, though legislative staff receive ethics training when they are hired and every four years after that. The ethics training has been offered once a year.

“It’s time to do this,” Renk said. “We’re trying to correct everything and make it right.”


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.