The state House has an intern policy and has changed its sexual harassment policy, largely in response to the sexting scandal involving its former speaker, John Diehl, Junior.
The House Administration Committee today approved the policy that creates an intern ombudsman, expands who in the House is required to report instances of harassment or inappropriate behavior, and set a ban on fraternization among lawmakers, staff, and interns.
It postponed voting on requiring the House’s Chief Clerk to hire outside counsel to investigate reports of sexual harassment. When and if it approves that proposal, it would then go to a vote by the full House, but its votes today are all that were needed to enact the rest of the policies.
The committee will continue taking suggestions for changes, including to its mandated reporting policy, for the possible creation of non-mandated reporters, and regarding if and when complaints of harassment should be made public.
Chairman Mike Leara (R-St. Louis) wanted the committee to vote today, even though it will continue taking suggestions for changes.
“We needed to enhance out sexual harassment policy and our intern policy so that we can begin session with these rules firmly in place and everybody knowing what they had to follow,” said Leara.
One Democrat on the committee, Michele Kratky (D-St. Louis City), voted “no” to the sexual harassment policy changes and on the ban on fraternization among staff, interns, and legislators. She didn’t want the committee to take votes today.
“I don’t want to vote on it until I think that it’s appropriate,” said Kratky. “Just go ahead and pass it and, okay, then we’ll change it later. I don’t know that that’s the right way to legislate.”
Kratky wants it made clear what the penalty is for someone not taking the mandated sexual harassment training required under the policy adopted today.
“It’s not outlined in the policy. Well in fact if I don’t go to mandatory training and they say now you can go be fired, I’d say, ‘Well no, it’s not in the policy. It doesn’t say it that way,'” said Kratky. “I think we need to be more specific.”
House Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss told the committee for a staff member not to take the required training would result in his or her firing.
Some who gave testimony today questioned when and if complaints that are investigated should become public, and whether mandated reporters – people required to report when they know of sexual harassment – are a good idea. Some called for the identification of non-mandated reporters, who could listen to a victim and would not have to take action, but others said that can’t be anyone who works in the House.