POLITICS
08/18/2015 05:44 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2015

Missouri Lawmakers Propose An Intern Dress Code To Stop Colleagues From Harassing Students

"We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females."

The Missouri legislature has been in crisis mode in recent months after two lawmakers resigned over allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct toward interns. Their colleagues are now trying to figure out how best to continue the intern program, and a top suggestion that has emerged is to mandate a "conservative" dress code to avoid tempting legislators into improper behavior.

"We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females," state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. "Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters."

The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.

Two months later, Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing.

But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City "very anything goes."

On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that's when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.

Engler told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that he supports the recommendation, since lawmakers already have a dress code they must abide by.

"I think there are professional standards that should be required since we already have them as reps," Engler said.

Democrats, however, said thinking an intern dress code would solve the culture problem was nothing more than victim-blaming.

"We should never infer that the problem -- and therefore the remedies -- lies with the student interns," state Rep. Kip Kendrick (D) said.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also criticized the idea in a letter to Kidd, asking him to withdraw the proposal.

"Is your recommendation meant to suggest that the ability of adult men and women who have been elected to govern the state of Missouri to control themselves is contingent on the attire of the teenagers and young adults working in their offices?" McCaskill said.

Engler said he does not think a dress code should be interpreted as placing the blame on the interns.

"That is not saying that they should be harassed if they're not dressed appropriately," Engler said. "We should all be treating people in a professional way."

Engler added that a dress code would be one of many changes, pointing to his suggestions of an ombudsman and a new electronic communication policy.

According to the Star, the lawmakers are hoping to have a final draft of changes by mid-September.

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