A Kansas lawmaker came under fire from female legislators Thursday after he imposed a dress code that prevents women testifying on bills from wearing low-cut necklines and miniskirts.
Republican state Sen. Mitch Holmes issued an 11-point code of conduct to guide women on how to dress. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Holmes’ rules don’t include any restrictions on men because, according to Holmes, men don’t need instructions on how to look professional.
"Oh, for crying out loud, what century is this?" Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said Thursday.
Holmes, 53, is the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. He 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 did think about adding a provision on how men should dress, but ultimately 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.
State Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, 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 Associated Press 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.
Kansas lawmakers had a previous controversy in 2014 over interns and how they were dressing. State Rep. Peggy Mast decided that interns during the session had to comply with an expanded dress code, according to the Capital-Journal.
Mast sought to have males wear a dress shirt, tie, slacks and suit and their hair neatly styled. Females could wear business attire with a “dressy” top. Mini-skirt and tight pants – along with revealing necklines – were prohibited.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.