Assembly approves mandatory sex harassment training

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Assembly members and employees will have to attend mandatory sexual harassment training every two years under a resolution the chamber overwhelmingly adopted Tuesday, the same day a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct returned to the chamber. 

The Republican-controlled Assembly passed the resolution 92-0 with no discussion. The vote came during the first floor session since two anonymous women accused Democratic Rep. Josh Zepnick of Milwaukee drunkenly trying to kiss them during political events in 2011 and 2015. The women made the accusations in a December article from The Capital Times.

Zepnick has said the allegations are true. Democratic leaders have demanded he resign but he has refused. He was in his customary seat in the chamber as the floor session began and took the podium to speak in honor of the late Robert Kardus, who served in the Assembly and on the Milwaukee Common Council in the 1960s and 1970s. The chamber listened in silence.

He voted for the mandatory sexual harassment training without comment and then sat quietly in his seat, glasses on, studying his laptop.

The resolution calls on members and employees to attend mandatory training at the beginning of every two-year legislative session. The Legislature’s attorneys have included sexual harassment training during orientation for new Assembly members and new state senators but attendance isn’t mandatory.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called a mandatory session to review the chamber’s sexual harassment policies in November as the #MeToo movement gained momentum. Vos and Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz introduced the mandatory training resolution on Thursday.

The speaker said during a news conference before the Assembly convened that even though the resolution states mandatory training will take place at the beginning of each legislative session, the first training will occur before the current session ends. Vos has said he wants the Assembly to finish its work by March.

“We were able to do it in a bipartisan way ... to say that every single person who works in government or any workplace ... should feel safe whenever they walk into their place of employment,” Vos said. “We’re doing our part in Wisconsin to make sure that we have training for the employees who work inside the Legislature.”

New state senators must receive sexual harassment training during a meeting with that chamber’s chief clerk and human resources officials. Senate Chief Clerk Jeff Renk has said the Senate is considering making that training recurring.

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