House committee approves new intern policy on sexual harassment

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Administration and Accounts Committee approved changes to the current Missouri House's policies about sexual harassment and interns, following separate scandals involving then-House Speaker John Diehl and Sen. Paul Levota, D-Independence, both of whom have since resigned.

The measure will ban romantic relationships between legislators, staff and interns. It will require mandatory annual ethics training for House members, staff and interns. It also provides additional options for harassment reporting by expanding the list of mandated reporters to include all leadership staff. 

An intern ombudsman, or a public advocate, will serve as a liaison between interns, House administration and universities. 

Rep. Kip Kendrick participated in the review of the intern policy and represents all the interns from the University of Missouri, Stephens College and Columbia College. 

"I am pleased to say that my recommendations were taken seriously," Kendrick said. "The policy changes before you, when implemented, will be an important step towards changing the atmosphere in Jefferson City."

He said while the process was more transparent, Kendrick said the end result will bring a substantial changes to the outcome. 

Taylor Hirth was an intern to former LeVota in 2010. She told the committee Levota harassed her.

She said she doesn't agree with the change in the mandatory reporting requirement.

"I had no desire to talk to people about my experiences. I wanted someone to respect my confidentiality," Hirth said.

She also said LeVota did not make interns go the sexual assault/harassment training when she was an intern and said it was "their choice."

Hirth told committee members that, as an intern, she would have wanted a list of resources and more training.