Walker administration, Assembly speaker highlight harassment policies

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker's administration has reminded state agency leaders about policies on sexual harassment, and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called a mandatory meeting for legislative staff to discuss the process for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The action comes amid a flurry of reports of sexual misconduct by multiple men in entertainment, media, sports and politics in the U.S. and beyond following a report in October alleging sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

There have been no reports of sexual harassment by Wisconsin politicians in the context of the recent allegations.

Still, how Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature handle sexual harassment is becoming a campaign issue. State Rep. Dana Wachs, a Democratic candidate for governor hoping to take on Walker next year, on Monday said Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature have failed to lead on the issue.

Wachs, an attorney from Eau Claire, called for a complete overhaul of the training, reporting, and settlement procedures for sexual harassment and assault in the Legislature.

"Gov. Walker dropped the ball," Wachs said. "He should be leading all government agencies and the legislature on this issue, but he failed."

In response, Walker's office released an email that the governor's top aide, Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel, sent to all Cabinet secretaries last week. In it, Neitzel encouraged them to discuss sexual harassment policies with their management and human relations teams. Neitzel attached a series of slides describing what constitutes harassment, employment discrimination and acts of misconduct under the law and ways that employees can lodge a complaint.

"While most harassment claims may not be as obvious a violation as some we have recently seen in the media, all allegations need to be taken seriously and appropriately reviewed," Neitzel wrote.

Also last week, Vos emailed staff for all state representatives, both Democrat and Republican, to call a mandatory meeting on Tuesday in the Assembly chamber with the Assembly's human resources director to talk about procedures for reporting sexual harassment.

"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 said in the email.

Lawmakers are also encouraged to attend, he said.

While no current lawmakers have been accused of sexual misconduct, former Republican Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer was sentenced to five months in jail in 2014 after he pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor sexual assault charges.

The criminal complaint against Kramer said he shoved a woman into a car, tried to kiss her and groped her outside of a Republican Party event at a Muskego bar in 2011. He was stripped of his title as majority leader and did not seek re-election in 2014.