Kansas Sen. Mitch Holmes has imposed a dress code prohibiting women testifying at hearings from wearing miniskirts or plunging necklines. The code contains no restrictions for men.
Rule No. 2 of the 11-point code of conduct stipulates that each witness must present themselves in "professional attire."
Holmes, a 53-year-old St. John Republican and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said the rule was intended to make sure each witness was dressed "respectfully" when addressing the committee. "For ladies," the rule says, "low-cut necklines and miniskirts are inappropriate."
Holmes told his committee that he considered stipulating that men wear a suit and tie, but after observing women who he considered to be dressed provocatively at the Capitol, he decided males didn't need any guidance.
"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."
Female Democratic and Republican lawmakers reacted incredulously to the dress code, wondering aloud in interviews what century they were in.
"Oh for crying out loud, what century is this?" Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, told the Topeka Capital-Journal Thursday.
Three other women senators — one Democrats and two Republicans — said the chairman should not place gender-specific regulations on Kansas residents seeking to share their thoughts on public policy.
Topeka Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt wanted to know more about the details of the guidelines, which do not give specific measurements for the clothing or to which women they apply.
"Who's going to define low-cut?" she asked. "Does it apply to senators?"
Wichita Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the ranking Democrat on the elections and ethics committee, said the lack of consistency for men and women was "a little strange."
"In my 13 years in the Legislature, that's the first time I've ever read anything like that," she said.
Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn of Sedgwick expressed concerns that the regulations might deter residents who don't own clothes that meet Holmes' decency standards 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 added.