- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Southern State University plans to resume sending legislative interns to the state Capitol after withdrawing them during the 2015 session amid allegations that some interns were being sexually harassed.

University officials have never said exactly why they withdrew the school’s four interns. But House Speaker John Diehl resigned for exchanging sexually explicit texts with an intern and Sen. Paul LeVota resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed interns, one of whom was from Central Missouri State, which he denied.

Changes made during the last legislative session to address the harassment issues persuaded Missouri Southern to reinstate the intern program, The Joplin Globe reported (http://bit.ly/1XdPW5u ).

Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson, who replaced Diehl, pledged to make changes to emphasize ethical behavior at the Capitol. Those changes included House lawmakers being required to take annual sexual harassment training, appointing an ombudsman to coordinate and advocate for the interns and updating its handbook for interns.

Richard Miller, dean of MSSU’s School of Arts & Sciences, said the university always intended to reinstate the intern program but wanted to emphasize to its interns that they were there to learn.

“Our students are there to see what happens on the floor of the House and floor of the Senate,” Miller said. “At the after-hour receptions where there is alcohol because it is a social event, that’s not where they should be.”

He said the students didn’t have proper supervision before the changes were made.

“Any time you put students in a field setting, you immediately lose control as soon as they walk out of your office,” Miller said. “There was a lack of oversight in Jefferson City, and the House moved very quickly to review their own policies.”

Missouri Southern also made changes, said Paula Carson, the provost/vice president of Academic Affairs. For the next session, only juniors, seniors and graduate students will be eligible for the four internships. The school also hired an intern coordinator with experience at similar programs to focus on cultivating the legislative program.

Applicants will undergo more scrutiny, including panel interviews to screen for the best candidates. Interns will have a longer, more rigorous orientation process before leaving for Jefferson City and frequent videoconferencing during the session will help staff identify whether a student is in distress, she said.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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