- Associated Press - Sunday, August 16, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri House is working on new intern rules aimed at preventing sexual harassment after recent scandals led two legislators to resign.

Tighter rules for administering internships are part of an early draft of the policy, The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1hG64uC ) reports. The policy also calls for the establishment of an ombudsman so interns could report problems.

Lawmakers have been under pressure to take action since former Republican House Speaker John Diehl resigned as the session concluded. He acknowledged that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.

Then last month, Missouri state Sen. Paul LeVota submitted his resignation following allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward interns. The Democrat denied the allegations, but they prompted party leaders to question his ability to serve.

Currently, the House has little role in selecting or overseeing interns, with the process left up to colleges and universities.



Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican leading the committee to form a new policy, recently presented a draft of ideas to his party’s lawmakers. He said he will circulate it among Democrats in coming weeks to get their input in the hopes of having a version that can be made public in time for the veto session on Sept. 16.

“We just have to make it easier for an intern who has any problems or misgivings to speak up and have a vetting process that is above reproach,” Engler said.

The intern scandals also have brought renewed attention to legislative ethics reform. To many lawmakers, Missouri’s status as the only state with no campaign contribution limits, no limits on lobbyist gifts and no restrictions on legislators becoming lobbyists contributes to an anything-goes atmosphere underlying the sexual harassment of interns.

“Ethics reform needs to be a top priority for the legislature,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, who took over the post after Diehl’s departure. “There’s not a silver bullet that can magically make everything better, and there’s not a direct causal link, but ethics reform is something that can help improve the culture and also the public perception of the Capitol.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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