Columbia state rep., other lawmakers consider new intern policies

2 years 3 months 4 weeks ago Tuesday, August 18 2015 Aug 18, 2015 Tuesday, August 18, 2015 1:25:00 PM CDT August 18, 2015 in News
By: Andrea Gonzales, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, wants to add a "Workplace Relationship Policy" and an "Employee Conduct Consensual Amorous Relationship Policy" to the House Member Code of Ethics. He wants to make changes to the Missouri Legislative Intern Handbook. He also made other suggestions, including multiple ways interns could potentially report workplace infractions.

Kendrick said emails were exchanged between lawmakers about a potential dress code change for interns so they would be less distracting.

"The key to my recommendations is it puts the responsibility on the House members," Kendrick said. "We should never infer that the issue, that the problem or the solution is is with the House interns. The interns -- it's not their fault. The issue is not how the interns dress. The issue is the behavior of the elected officials."

He made clear dress is not the problem. 

"I think that there were a few representatives that wanted to potentially change the dress code in order to create less distractions," Kendrick said. "Again, that's not the issue. The issue is the behavior of the representatives. It's the power dynamic that exists at the capitol."

Kendrick has been working on his proposals since May. He met with university officials, current interns, former interns, experts, lawyers and a Title IX specialist. The proposed Workplace Relationship Policy says:

"The House of Representatives strives to avoid the unprofessional work environment that can potentially result from romantic relationships. Under this policy, the House of Representatives prohibits romantic or sexual relationships involving persons in positions of power with those under their supervision, whether the behavior is welcome or unwelcome or by whom the behavior is initiated or accepted."

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill sent letters to Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Independence, and Rep. Nick King, R-Liberty, following a report they wanted to implement a dress code so interns would be less distracting.

"Dear Representative Kidd:

Victim-blaming in the context of sexual violence is as old as the crime itself. I saw victims blamed for the crimes against them as a courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes, and as elected prosecutor for Jackson County-which includes the area you now represent in the Missouri General Assembly.

I saw young women held responsible for the harm done to them by others. I even saw a few law enforcement officials sometimes unwilling to pursue justice because of the victim's behavior prior to the crime. "She was asking for it," is a sentence I have longed to see stripped for our cultural vocabulary.

Victim-blaming obscures justice, and undermines a process that should be based solely on factual evidence, not on a desire to skirt accountability.

And so I was bitterly disappointed to read press accounts of your suggestions that, as policies are developed to better protect interns working in the Missouri State Legislature from sexual harassment and assault, you thought an intern dress code was the answer.

Such a recommendation reeks of a desire to avoid holding fully accountable those who would prey upon young women and men seeking to begin honorable careers in public service. Is your recommendation meant to suggest that the ability of adult men and women who have been elected to govern the state of Missouri to control themselves is contingent on the attire of the teenagers and young adults working in their offices? Is your recommendation meant to suggest that if an intern wears suggestive clothing, she or he will share partial responsibility for any potential sexual harassment or assault?

I approach this issue as a former prosecutor of sex crimes, a U.S. Senator who is working to curb sexual violence on a national scale, and as a mother and grandmother. I also approach it as a former Missouri state legislator --and previous to that, a former intern in the Missouri State Legislature who confronted sexual harassment from male legislators.

As I have said of those times, I am not sure that I handled the harassment correctly. I believe younger generations of women and men are growing stronger in the face of such unacceptable behavior-including recent interns working in the State Legislature who have spoken out and held powerful legislators to account.

I am immeasurably proud of those young women. And I refuse to stand by idly while any suggestion is made that victims of sexual harassment in the Missouri State Legislature is the responsibility of anyone other than the legislators themselves. It is the responsibility of you and your colleagues to uphold the law, protect the young people working in our state's capital, and confront and change a culture that excuses sexual violence. This problem has nothing to do with how interns are dressed.

I ask that you clarify or withdraw your suggestion of a dress code for interns as a means of combatting sexual harassment-and that you redouble your efforts to confront the real and systemic causes of such behavior.

Sincerely,

Claire McCaskill
United States Senator"

House Speaker Todd Richardson also made a statement in regards to the list was released by Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington. 

"The members who were tasked with reviewing the intern policy for the House did an outstanding job in developing a list of recommendations that I believe are a step toward improving the culture at the state Capitol. The legislature should be a safe place for learning about government and the legislative process, and my goal is to ensure that safety. The working group did not recommend, and the House will not be implementing, changes to the dress code as the House already has in place a code that applies to all members, staff and interns equally. Our efforts have been, and remain, focused on improving the environment for interns to learn and gain experience here in the General Assembly."

Engler said interns should be in appropriate attire, but if they aren't -- that is no excuse to harass someone. 

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