Two interns for Missouri Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat, left the Capitol two months before the end of the session. The university has asked for the Senate’s help as part of a Title IX investigation into why they left. File photo
Two interns for Missouri Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat, left the Capitol two months before the end of the session. The university has asked for the Senate’s help as part of a Title IX investigation into why they left. File photo

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Abrupt end to two internships sparks investigation in Missouri Senate

By JASON HANCOCK

jhancock@kcstar.com

May 21, 2015 06:50 AM

UPDATED May 21, 2015 03:50 PM

JEFFERSON CITY

An investigation is underway into why interns from the University of Central Missouri abruptly ended their internship in the Missouri Senate two months before the end of the legislative session.

The interns in question — a man and a woman — worked in the office of Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat. According to The Joplin Globe, which first reported on the investigation Wednesday night, the university reached out to the Missouri Senate in April for assistance in its inquiry under the federal law known as Title IX.

That law prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any federally funded education program or activity.

Jeff Murphy, a spokesman for UCM, said in a statement to The Star that the university “does not respond to questions about campus investigations.” Marga Hoelscher, the Missouri Senate administrator, declined to comment because of the “sensitive nature of a university Title IX investigation.”

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LeVota released a statement saying he has never been told that there were any issues with his legislative interns.

“This session, after a month and a half, my chief of staff was notified by email that the male and female interns from (the University of Central Missouri) for my office were needed back at school to work on other projects,” he said. “I was never informed by the university, or by either intern, of any issues they experienced other than that. I had no reason to doubt what the university said in that email and still have no reason to doubt that.”

LeVota put the investigation in the context of recent attention surrounding the resignation of former Missouri House speaker John Diehl.

Last week, The Star revealed that Diehl had been exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old intern in the Missouri House. The intern came from Missouri Southern State University, which abruptly pulled all of its interns out of the Capitol last month.

Diehl resigned from the legislature a day after The Star’s story was published.

“This is my 11th year in the Missouri Capitol, and I have had an amazing experience with the intern program with students from across the state over that decade with no problems at all,” LeVota said. “Now with the recent climate, rumors and speculation abound and I am upset that any of these young people that come to experience the legislative process would be subject to sensationalism.”

LeVota said he has never had any issues with his interns, including three who remained in his office until the end of the legislative session.

“I understand the need for universities to look into rumors, even unsubstantiated rumors,” he said.

According to the University of Central Missouri’s Title IX guidelines, students can be relocated or reassigned after they file a Title IX compliant. Murphy said the university couldn’t provide details about any investigation, but the school “strongly supports the provisions of Title IX and what it means for the safety and security of campus members and guests.”

He added that the school expects the Jefferson City internships to continue.

LeVota, 47, served four terms in the Missouri House, eventually becoming Democratic leader of that chamber. He was elected to the Senate in 2012 in a district that covers Independence, Buckner, Sugar Creek and parts of east Kansas City, Raytown, Lee’s Summit and unincorporated Jackson County.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.