JOPLIN, Mo.–After a year on hold, the Missouri Southern Legislative Internship Program has resumed. But there are new rules in place to make sure a 2015 controversy isn’t repeated.
It’s an overhaul of who qualifies, how they’re trained and program oversight. It’s all connected to an inappropriate relationship between a lawmaker and an intern last year.
“It was two adults. They made poor decisions and that shouldn’t be able to impact the opportunity,” said Keegan Tinney, former MSSU intern.
An opportunity Keegan Tinney says he benefited from as a two-time MSSU intern.
“There’s not really any better experience to learn the legislative process than being there. No classroom can give you the experience and knowledge,” said Tinney.
Missouri Southern will reinstate the program in the next academic year. Although, there are new rules, like a limit of four student interns.
“We’re also ensuring they’re only juniors, seniors or graduate students,” said Dr. Paula Carson, MSSU VP Academic Affairs.
The application process will be tougher and there will be more preparation before those interns leave for Jefferson City.
“Standards of conduct, professionalism more than anything else. And to remind them they are students, they aren’t legislators,” said Richard Miller, MSSU Dean Arts & Sciences.
A new university staff member has been hired to coordinate the internships. That will include personal visits to Jefferson City, as well as more frequent contact through Skype.
“It’s difficult anytime you’re 150 miles away anyway, and so we try to give as much control as we can,” said Miller.
Last year, the Legislative Intern Program came under scrutiny when then-Speaker of the House, John Diehl Jr., admitted to inappropriate text messages with a female Missouri Southern student. MSSU suspended its intern program that May, leading to the new rules for the program both on campus and at the Capitol.
“I think it facilitated on a state level, the tightening of the internship program in Jefferson City,” said Miller.
They point out it had been a valuable program for 25 years. They expect to see continued benefits for students and lawmakers going forward.