CHEYENNE – Wyoming lawmakers narrowly voted down expanding sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policies to cover all public forums Saturday.
The Legislative Service Office presented an updated sexual harassment and anti-discrimination policy during the Wyoming Legislature’s Management Council meeting in Cheyenne. Matt Obrecht, LSO director, said the policy was largely a reiteration and clarification of the old policy with some changes. But given the climate of the times and the #MeToo movement which has resulted in expulsions and reprimands in state legislatures across the country, Obrecht said it was prudent to make sure the policy is solid.
One key component of the updated policy was when it is in effect and who it applies to, Obrecht said. It now covers actions of members of the Legislature and employees when in session and other times when acting in an official capacity, including interim committee meetings and legislative conferences across the country. It also applies to complaints reported by third parties.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, a Laramie Democrat, said she thought it would be appropriate to apply the policy to legislators in any public forum. She proposed an amendment to that end.
“I think of myself in public in public forums as a representative of the legislative body, and I think that should be included,” she said. “I am making it a little broader in terms of recognizing that we are invited regularly to speak in public forums as members of the Legislature, and I want to make it clear we are to behave honestly in the same way we do here.”
But Sen. Drew Perkins, a Casper Republican, said he was concerned about how far-reaching the policy should be for the part-time, citizen legislators.
“My concern is that there’s a First Amendment right every legislator has, so I’m just trying to figure out how far this goes,” he said.
Obrecht said the policy already provides that legislators are acting in their official capacities at all times. But he said he could see Perkins’ point that lawmakers switch hats in those forums between their roles as legislators and members of the business community.
Though Senate President and Management Council chairman Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, initially called for a voice vote, it was not discernible whether Connolly’s proposed amendment had the group’s favor.
Perkins, as well as Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, Rep. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, Rep. John Freeman, D-Green River, Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, and Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, voted against the amendment, which failed 6-6.
The council unanimously voted to adopt the updated policy as a whole.
There have been six reports of sexually inappropriate actions or comments by legislators since 2008, to the best of LSO’s knowledge, Obrecht said in 2017. All of the complaints are against men in regard to their behavior toward women. Five complaints were made by women and one by a man. Three complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior by lawmakers were made in the past two years.
Obrecht said in Decem-ber he doesn’t think the Wyoming Legislature’s culture is replete with inappropriate behavior.
But he said he does believe there have been inappropriate behavior incidents prior to this year that went unreported.