The NCSL Blog

13

By Holly South

With the 2018 legislative session underway in most states, many college-aged students have embarked on their first experience with state government as legislative interns.

Arizona legislatureLegislatures around the country are grappling with the issue of sexual harassment – but how are interns protected by state policy? Several internship administrators were asked what guidelines and resources are available to student interns.

Lisa Roy, director, Connecticut Legislative Internship Program

“The University of Connecticut’s Women’s Center provides the legislature’s awareness training for interns. We started it because there was a void, and we wanted to avoid students not feeling protected, without resources.

“The first question asked of interns is how many have previously had training. Eight years ago, one or two raised their hands. But now all but one or two have had some training. What we’re hearing is that they’re getting it even at the high school level, which is a great trend. We continue [the training]… because it’s important to send the message from day one that it won’t be tolerated, you have resources, and this is what your safe place is.

“It’s important not just for students but for legislators and staff – everyone is required to take the training, so everybody knows that everybody knows what is appropriate. It’s a great message for our students: A stand has been taken on the matter and resources are available." Read the Connecticut General Assembly’s Sexual Harassment Policy.

Lisa Moreland, coordinator of University of Delaware’s Legislative Fellows Program (a partnership with the Delaware General Assembly)

"Our handbook has a written policy for maintaining a productive and safe work environment, and we have also included the University’s (recently updated) policy with regard to non-discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence:"

University of Delaware Non-Discrimination Statement (July 2017)

“The University of Delaware does not discriminate against any person on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, genetic information, marital status, disability, religion, age, veteran status or any other characteristic protected by applicable law in its employment, educational programs and activities, admissions policies, and scholarship and loan programs as required by Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other applicable statutes and University policies. The University of Delaware also prohibits unlawful harassment including sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus and coordinator of the University of Kansas’ Topeka Internship Program

“Whether it’s a university or a corporation or Congress or a state legislature, in institutions where men tend to dominate and there are power differentials, the opportunities for harassment are legion.

“But there is now a much higher sense of awareness [of the issue]. The legislature is in the process of revamping its policies and the internship orientation was modified this year to address the topic. An outside provider was brought in to conduct a required sexual harassment training [which is voluntary for legislators].”

Christy Behnke, director, Tennessee Legislative Internship Program

“We have a policy we regularly review and last year we produced a video. I have an open door policy for interns to talk in a safe environment. We want to make sure we’re addressing everything we can and creating a positive work environment for students.

“I encourage them to think about what their boundaries are—and they have to be able to communicate those. For a 21-year-old student that’s not always easy. I try to give them scenarios. For instance, if you find yourself in this situation what’s a way you can exit it if you start to feel uncomfortable?

“We also talk about things that are appropriate for interns to do. If it’s outside this work environment, the statehouse (e.g., picking up someone’s dry cleaning), then it’s not [appropriate]. We’re taking care of business here—and it’s state business, not personal business. We also communicate this to offices. Especially when new members come in.

“And we do not allow interns at receptions, nothing after hours. They have no business there. That’s a best practice that needs to stay in place.”

Other examples of polices that address interns:

  • The legislatures in Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming define interns as employees in their workplace harassment policies.
  • The Maryland General Assembly’s Anti-Harassment Policy and Procedures applies to interns and pages and “covers the interaction of these individuals away from the legislative complex at legislative-sponsored events, professional meetings or seminars, and those activities that involve legislative business.”
  • The New York State Assembly’s policy prohibits fraternization between legislators and interns.
  • The Washington House of Representatives’ Personnel Policy Manual specifically addresses interns and pages: “Employment at the House may involve interaction with minors, and extra attention and care needs to be given in the area of professional conduct around all youth. Young people are looking to legislators and legislative staff to set high standards and be good role models. With limited exceptions, there should be no business need for adults to be alone in non-public circumstances with youth staff, including having private communications within or outside of the legislative workplace. Consistent with House respectful workplace policies, pages and interns are instructed to recognize, resist and report inappropriate conduct.”

Holly South, a policy associate, is NCSL's liaison to the American Society of Legislative Clerks & Secretaries.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.