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Our Opinion: Proposal to scuttle House internship program misguided

Our Opinion: Proposal to scuttle House internship program misguided

February 7th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

State lawmakers should reject an attempt by a House Democrat to suspend the chamber's internship program.

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, of Ferguson, wants the state House to suspend its intern program and further strengthen its policies on sexual harassment, citing an increase in formal complaints about inappropriate conduct over the past couple years, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Curtis told the AP the environment in the House hasn't improved enough since former Speaker John Diehl Jr. resigned in May 2015 while admitting to sending sexually suggestive text messages to an intern.

The AP said the House has handled six formal sexual harassment complaints since it strengthened its policies in November 2015, including at least four for which outside attorneys were hired to investigate claims involving lawmakers.

That was twice as many complaints as the House received in the two previous years.

Curtis' argument essentially is that an increase in complaints means the environment has deteriorated — or at least hasn't improved.

But that logic is flawed.

Since Diehl's resignation, changes have been adopted to the legislative internship programs. Among other things, the House instituted annual sexual harassment training, increased its number of mandated reporters and required outside attorneys be hired to investigate sexual harassment complaints involving lawmakers, the AP reported.

So it stands to reason that at least some of the increase in reporting is due to better reporting of incidents, rather than simply more incidents occurring.

The House has more than 100 interns and there are no plans to halt the program, said Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss, the chamber's top administrator.

He said canceling the intern program would be detrimental to students, as well as the global discussion on sexual harassment.

We agree.

The most important thing that has come from reforms implemented to the legislative internship programs — as well as from the larger discussion on sexual harassment — are the messages sent to victims. Those messages are twofold: Sexual harassment/assault is not acceptable and should be reported.

Capitol internship programs are good programs, and the reforms made in 2015 will continue to promote a safe and positive environment.