New Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson has assembled what he calls “a working group" of legislators and House staff to come up with changes in the chamber’s student intern program.
The six legislators on the panel – two Democrats and four Republicans – include state Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves. Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, are seeking the changes as a result of a scandal this spring that prompted then-House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, to resign over sexual text messages he was exchanging with a college-age intern.
The other House members on the panel are: Republicans Kevin Engler of Farmington, Rebecca Roeber of Lee's Summit, Jason Chipman of Steelville and Diane Franklin of Camdentown. The Democrats are Kirkton and Kip Kendrick of Columbia, Mo.
The Missouri Senate also is in the midst of an investigation into an intern controversy of its own. At issue are the reasons two interns assigned to the office of state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, abruptly resigned a couple months ago.; LeVota says he was not aware of any problems.
Richardson said in a telephone interview late Wednesday that he has asked the House working group to collect information and then recommend changes in the intern program. The speaker said the group is not a formal committee and won't have a chairman, although Engler's staff is charged with some of the administrative duties.
Richardson said he wants the group to “reach out to all the universities that participate in the intern program and ask them for input and guidance in in helping us craft a new policy.”
In addition, he wants the group to learn how other states’ legislative bodies operate their intern programs.
Although he is setting no deadline, the speaker said he hopes the group will finish its work before schools begin selecting intern candidates for the next legislative session, which begins in January.
Richardson added that the group is to work with the office of the House’s chief clerk’s and with the chamber’s human-resources staff.
Richardson said he believed that the state Senate’s staff also may participate in coming up with changes in the intern program, although the Senate involvement wasn’t definite.
The Senate’s staff is conducting a probe of the intern issues involving LeVota’s office, although sources emphasize that the matter may involve LeVota’s staff, and not the state senator.
Missouri House Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, has confirmed that an investigation is underway, but he has declined further comment. The Senate has apparently hired a lawyer with Keaveny’s law firm to participate in the probe.