Legislative leaders think the environment in the Capitol has been better this year with changes made after two legislators resigned amid scandals involving interns.
After former House speaker John Diehl and former senator Paul LeVota resigned last year, the House and Senate each made changes to their intern and sexual harassment policies, and legislative leaders called for a change in attitudes and tolerance toward misbehavior.
Senator Gina Walsh (D-Bellefontaine Neighbors) said it appears to have made a difference, and thinks the Capitol was a better place for interns this year.
“Folks checked on the interns this year. They knew where everybody was. I think everyone was very cognizant of the young people in this building,” said Walsh. “It’s a wild west environment a lot of times for them and I think we’ve changed that.”
Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) became Speaker of the House on the final day of the 2015 session after Diehl resigned. He spoke often after taking the Speaker’s office and through the interim about improving the image of the Capitol and not tolerating inappropriate actions. He also thinks things were improved for the session that ended Friday.
“I hope it’s been. It’s been my experience that it has been,” said Richardson. “It was one of the goals we set over the interim, was the put in place new policies and new procedures to make sure that we had a safe workplace and that this was a really rewarding experience for the interns that had the opportunity to work in this building.”
Both the House and Senate reviewed their intern policies, and policies on sexual harassment. Many Capitol staff underwent sexual harassment training, and mandated reporters of harassment were identified.
In February the House and Senate jointly sought a restraining order against a man who had allegedly been harassing interns in the Capitol, and later gave him guidelines for notifying security when he would be in the building.
Richardson also asked a former member of his caucus, Don Gosen, to resign, after it came to light Gosen had been in an extramarital affair.
“We’ve shown a willingness throughout the session to make sure that policy’s enforced rigorously,” said Richardson.
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) also said the situation has improved and credited Richardson for a lot of that improvement.
“Both Todd and I have worked with our caucuses to try to put a little more thought in the voter’s head that we’re serious about our jobs up here, and it isn’t always the bad examples, but we can behave like adults and do the job that we’re sent here to do,” said Hummel.
Governor Jay Nixon (D) agrees things seem to have improved.
“I think the policies that were put in place and the attitude shift was noticeable in a positive way,” Nixon told reporters. “You’d have to talk to the interns, but I do think there was a strong effort made and I know both the speaker and pro-tem, as well as the respective minority leaders, feel deeply about that issue, and I thank them for taking serious that image problem and I’m so happy that the universities that are involved in those programs didn’t give up on it.”