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Arkansas House to offer harassment training for lawmakers

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LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The Arkansas House will soon offer voluntary sexual harassment training to lawmakers, while the state Senate is considering whether to conduct similar training when lawmakers convene for their 2019 legislative session.

The training is mandatory for staffers in the House and will be held next week with the help of a Little Rock law firm that handles labor and employment issues. House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said lawmakers are not required to attend the session, which will be offered again when they convene next month for a session focused on the state's budget.

Senate President Jonathan Dismang said his chamber is not conducting sexual harassment training, but might do so as part of the orientation for next year's regular session.

A 50-state review by The Associated Press found that about a third of state legislative chambers across the country do not require lawmakers to participate in sexual harassment training. The AP also found that in three-fourths of the states, at least one legislative chamber has recently updated its sexual misconduct policy, has specific proposals to do so or has undertaken a review about whether changes are needed.

The House is paying $2,500 to Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C. to conduct the training sessions, which will last between 90 minutes and two hours. Gillam called the training the first step in a review of the House's policies in response to misconduct claims against lawmakers and other prominent figures nationwide.

"It is my hope that within the first couple weeks of the fiscal session we'll be able to get all the members through (the training)," Gillam said.

Gillam last month declined to release details about a harassment complaint involving a lawmaker after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said a document related to the allegation doesn't have to be released the public.

Rutledge said the document, which Gillam called a witness statement, was considered an employee evaluation record exempted from public release because it didn't result in anyone's suspension or termination. Gillam sought the attorney general's opinion in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press for any records related to sexual harassment or misconduct complaints made against lawmakers since 2008.

In response to a similar FOI request, the state Senate said there had not been any sexual harassment or misconduct complaints filed in the same time period in that chamber against lawmakers.

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