The Buzz

Kansas City lawmaker calls for public hearings on Missouri House intern policy, sexual harassment

State Rep. John Rizzo wants to see the Missouri House take a more expansive look at the problem of sexual harassment in the Capitol.

Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat, sent a letter Wednesday to House Speaker Todd Richardson requesting that the process of developing a new intern policy that is currently underway be broadened to more comprehensively address the issue of workplace harassment.

Richardson established a working group of lawmakers to craft a new intern policy this summer after former House Speaker John Diehl resigned following revelations by The Star that he exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old intern.

Rizzo believes the work should now be turned over to a full-fledged committee.

“We should hear from those that have been in the intern program and effected by it on ways to fix it,” Rizzo said. “This process should be transparent and public hearings should be held.”

A draft of proposed changes to the intern policy was shared with lawmakers Monday. It included ideas such as a minimum number of college credit hours and GPA for participation, mandatory training for interns and supervisors, and the creation of an ombudsman program. A final version is expected to be presented to lawmakers by mid September.

While the work that has already been done on the policy has been helpful, Rizzo said, it has been “largely conducted in private.”

“Implementing a new policy without hearing from those most affected by it would do a disservice to the House and the people of Missouri and undermine what we are trying to achieve,” Rizzo said in his letter to the speaker.

Rizzo also said the focus shouldn’t be solely on interns, but rather on sexual harassment in general.

In recent months, dozens of women — current and former interns, legislative aides, lobbyists and lawmakers — told The Star sexual harassment in the Capitol is commonplace.

Taylor Hirth and Alissa Hembree, two former interns whose allegations of sexual harassment against Sen. Paul LeVota forced him to resign last month, released a joint statement Tuesday echoing Rizzo’s point.

While the focus on sexual harassment of interns has been welcome, they said, others who are not interns but have had similar experiences with sexual harassment in the Capitol should not be ignored.

Here is Rizzo’s letter to the speaker of the Missouri House.