TOPEKA, Kan. — A dress code imposed by a Kansas Senate committee chairman that prohibits women testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts is drawing bipartisan ridicule from female legislators.
Sen. Mitch Holmes' 11-point code of conduct does not include any restrictions on men, who he said needed no instruction on how to look professional, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1TbpCGt ).
"Oh, for crying out loud, what century is this?" Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said Thursday.
Holmes, a 53-year-old Republican from St. John who is chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said he wrote the instruction because provocatively dressed women are a distraction. The guidelines don't detail a minimum skirt length or a permissible neckline for blouses.
"It's one of those things that's hard to define," Holmes said. "Put it out there and let people know we're really looking for you to be addressing the issue rather than trying to distract or bring eyes to yourself."
Holmes said he considered requiring men to wear suits and ties during testimony but decided males didn't need any guidance. He expects lobbyists to understand the rules when interacting with his committee, although he acknowledged infrequent visitors to the Statehouse might be unaware.
Female senators said no one should impose gender-specific demands on those testifying before committees.
"Who's going to define low-cut?" said Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican. "Does it apply to senators?"
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, said people who don't have clothes that meet Holmes' standards might be deterred from testifying.
"I am more interested in what they have to say about the direction our state should go than what they're wearing that day," McGinn said.
Wichita Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the ranking Democrat on the Senate's elections and ethics committee, said people testifying before committees ought to present themselves in a professional way but she was put off by the lack of consistency for men and women.
"In my 13 years in the Legislature, that's the first time I've ever read anything like that," Faust-Goudeau said. "I thought it was a little strange."
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, predicted the committee will reconsider the dress code Wednesday at its next meeting. Wagle, who is a member of the committee but wasn't present when the rules were given to members, indicated she isn't inclined to intervene personally.
"The legislative process eventually always evolves to a consensus of the majority without leadership having to take action," she told The Associated Press.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, told the AP that the "irony" of the dress code was that it came from a committee that "should be more concerned about violations of campus finance law than what women wear."
"Coming from a man, I think it's important that women are supported in the choices that they make for themselves," he said.