JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri lawmaker wants the state House to suspend its intern program and further strengthen its policies on sexual harassment, citing an increase in formal complaints about inappropriate conduct over the past couple years.
Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, a Ferguson Democrat, said Monday that the environment in the House hasn't improved enough since former Speaker John Diehl Jr. resigned in May 2015 while admitting to sending sexually suggestive text messages to an intern.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that the House has handled six formal sexual harassment complaints since it strengthened its policies in November 2015, including at least four for which outside attorneys were hired to investigate claims involving lawmakers.
That was twice as many complaints as the House received in the two previous years. But it's impossible to know whether alleged sexual harassment instances actually have increased or whether lawmakers and staff simply feel more comfortable reporting allegations, which would indicate the new policies are working.
Curtis on Monday provided the AP a letter he had written in December to the House speaker noting the increased number of sexual harassment complaints and asking that the House intern program be suspended until "the culture has sufficiently changed" in the Capitol. Although Curtis has two college interns, he told the AP that he continues to believe the overall program should be suspended.
The House has more than 100 interns and there are no plans to halt the program, said Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss, the top administrator in the chamber.
"I think that terminating or canceling the intern program at this point would be detrimental to students, it would be detrimental to the process and ultimately it would also be detrimental to the entire discussion that's going on globally right now about sexual harassment," Crumbliss said Monday.
Among changes adopted since 2015, the House instituted annual sexual harassment training, increased its number of mandated reporters and required that outside attorneys be hired to investigate sexual harassment complaints involving lawmakers.
Curtis suggested additional changes in his December letter, including requiring sexual harassment training for lawmakers and staff on or before their first day on the job and requiring additional monthly training sessions during the legislative session. He also suggested the House training sessions should last longer.
The House held what was supposed to be a mandatory 90-minute training session for staff and lawmakers in January, which lasted about three times longer than last year's session. Crumbliss said nearly everyone participated and those who missed will be asked to make it up.
Crumbliss said it's a good goal to offer training earlier but there could be practical problems in training people on their first day of employment, particularly if they work in a district office instead of the Capitol.
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