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Government, Politics & Issues

Will Missouri House recommendations make Capitol life better for interns?

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File photo by Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

No fraternization, investigations conducted by "outside counsel," and sexual harassment training every year: These are just a few of the recommendations being made to improve the culture and work environment of the Missouri Capitol. 

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, announced the proposed changes Friday in a lengthy press release, but also spoke to St. Louis Public Radio by phone.

"The recommendations ... are a comprehensive proposal to try to improve our policies in how we prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the Capitol," Richardson said.

First, Richardson wants to ban House members from engaging in "romantic fraternization" with staff members and interns.

"It prohibits those types of relationships where there is a direct or indirect supervisory relationship," he said, "and I think that's consistent with what you see in a lot of workplaces."

Another proposal would require that outside counsel investigate any sexual harassment complaints that involve House members.

"We would secure that counsel the same way we handle other House procurement," Richardson said.  "The chief clerk has already been working to identify some potential sources for that counsel, but we'd handle that the same way we handle other procurement."

Another recommendation would require mandatory annual "conduct and ethics training" for all state representatives that would include "sexual harassment policies and procedures."  There would also be mandatory annual sexual harassment training for House staff members.

Others include:

  • Create additional levels of oversight by placing the administration of the intern program under the House Administration Division, which would come up with an intern handbook and develop intern training. An intern ombudsman would be an advocate and coordinator. This would be separate from an intern coordinator who would work to ensure member and intern compliance with policies. In addition, the intern policies of sending universities would have to be reviewed and approved by House committee on administration and accounts. 
  • Provide additional options for harassment reporting by expanding the list of mandated reporters to include all leadership staff
  • Review intern policies annually with intern-sending institutions by intern ombudsman

The recommendations do not include any new dress codes for interns, which had been suggested by Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Independence, at a meeting back in August.
In response, Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, said the list of recommendations was ambiguous and didn't "have any teeth."

"There's no specifics, there's no timetable to move things along," Newman said. "We've got interns being booked already for this January, and yet there is no process to protect them from sexual harassment ... there's no system set up for us to report or to have our complaints fairly dealt with."

Newman says she thinks Richardson's announcement is a direct response to a letter sent last week by minority floor leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, criticizing House Republicans for a "continuing lack of action" to protect interns.

Meanwhile, Richardson has sent the recommendations to the House committee on administration and accounts and asked committee members to review and enact them before the start of the 2016 legislative session in January.

"They will conduct a public hearing to review the proposals and then ultimately that committee will have to vote to adopt those as official policies of the (Missouri) House," Richardson said.

A public hearing has not yet been scheduled, but Richardson says he's asked committee chair Mike Leara, R-Sunset Hills, to "try to finish this process no later than Dec. 1."

For background on what prompted this action see:

Politically Speaking: Kendrick seeks to transform 'permissive culture' within the Missouri Capitol

Lawmakers grapple with improving environment for women in Missouri's Capitol

When it comes to behavior, few expect legislators to change when they return to Jeff City

Missouri House speaker resigning, after coming under fire over sexting scandal

LeVota resigning from Missouri Senate; maintains innocence

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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