State Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-Ferguson, says the Missouri House’s intern program should be suspended until the culture gets better. His suggestion, along with others, are outlined in a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Popular Bluff, in response to the Associated Press reporting six harassment complaints at the Capitol since 2015. When asked how to measure culture change if interns are not working there, Curtis tells Missourinet he wants to create a shock to the system.
“It would force us to have a real conversation about what we’re here for and how we should act and behave,” says Curtis. “In doing so, I think that would really provide a more serious mindset for everyone and make them wake up and realize that we’re here to do serious business.”
In 2015, former House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town & Country, and Sen. Paul Levota, D-Independence, resigned for claims by interns of inappropriate behavior.
“The culture, at least now, people are still a little bit more reserved in their actions, which is a good thing, which allows them to focus more on their work. But we still haven’t stopped the investigations. So that means all of the behavior hasn’t changed,” says Curtis.
Other suggestions in his letter include requiring members to take monthly training aimed at preventing sexual harassment, the creation of a 24-hour hotline to field harassment complaints, limits on the time of day interns can work and making Representatives accused of such claims liable for any investigative costs.
One criticism of the recommendation is that suspending the program would add to the workload of lawmakers and their staff. Another is that training won’t stop harassment.
“We owe it to Missourians and to the body that we serve to try. We prevent them (interns) from being harmed,” he says. “They could still intern in other levels of government where they haven’t had the documented issues that we’ve had.”
Curtis says he has not received a response from Richardson about his requests.