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Missouri House will hold public hearing on sexual harassment and intern policies

The public will get the opportunity to weigh in on proposed changes to the Missouri House’s sexual harassment and intern policies at a hearing at noon Thursday in the Capitol.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, released a draft of the proposed changes last month.

The new policies are expected to be finalized by Dec. 1 — nearly six months since Speaker John Diehl, a Town and Country Republican, was forced to resign from the Missouri General Assembly after The Star revealed he had engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a 19-year-old House intern.

Shortly after Diehl’s resignation, Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment against him from two former interns. Meanwhile, dozens of women told The Star this past summer that a culture of sexual harassment has existed in the Capitol for years.

The proposed changes include a ban on romantic fraternization between legislators, staff and interns, as well as a mandate that any sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers be referred to an outside attorney to investigate. An ombudsman position would also be created to serve as a liaison between interns, House administration and universities.

Disciplinary action against an elected lawmaker would be handled by the speaker or by the House Ethics Committee, made up of 10 legislators and chaired by House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican. The committee can recommend that a lawmaker be expelled from the House, which would need a two-thirds vote of the full 163-member chamber.

The House Administration and Accounts Committee will conduct Thursday’s public hearing. Rep. Mike Leara, a St. Louis Republican who chairs the committee, told Missourinet that he has no intention of rushing through the process.

“I think we have a good policy here in front of us,” he said, “but I am absolutely open to changes and tweaks.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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