The Joint Legislative Procedure Committee voted 9–5 today to reject a rule barring legislators from having sex with pages and interns.
Senator Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton) offered this amendment to the Joint Rules of the Legislature:
1B-3.1 Sexual contact prohibited. No legislator or legislative employee may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page.
Senator Nelson said this amendment is required to ensure the Legislature fulfills its “obligation to ensure a workplace that is free from any type of sexual harassment, coercion, etc.”
During questioning, Senator Blake Curd (R-12/Sioux Falls) drew an analogy to his military experience, saying that it is “good professional behavior to not be involved with people in your chain of command.” However, Senator contended that such behavior is already covered by Joint Rule 1A-4:
1A-4. Sexual harassment prohibited. All members are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is free from sexual harassment. All members shall avoid any action or conduct which could be viewed as sexual harassment. A member shall report any sexual harassment complaint to the presiding officer of the house to which the member belongs. If the situation is not resolved, the member shall forward the complaint to the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council [Joint Rule 1A-4, 91st Legislative Session, 2016].
Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels also indicated his impression that existing Joint Rules on sexual harassment cover the situation and asked if Senator Nelson had a definition of “sexual contact.”
Senator Nelson responded that statute defines sexual contact and that, over a week’s consultation, he and the Legislative Research Council had settled on not including a definition in this rule and keeping the wording of this proposal simple.
In response to the question of the extent of existing rules, Senator Nelson obliquely referred to “certain events” that motivated his proposal:
Unfortunately there’s been some things that have been discussed that warranted looking at making it more explicit in our joint rules so that there was no misunderstanding, so that people didn’t—the grey area that has been allowed to be there, this takes it away [Senator Stace Nelson, responses to the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee, 2017.01.11].
Senator Nelson said the sexual harassment rules may not address the unspecified events he had in mind because “a victim is not always aware that they’re a victim.” Senator Nelson added, “It is highly inappropriate for a legislator, a mature legislator, to prey on a page or an intern.”
During brief discussion, Rep. David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) said sexual contact between legislators and pages is clearly covered by the general rule on ethical standards for legislators:
The people of South Dakota require that their legislators maintain the highest of moral and ethical standards as such standards are essential to assure the trust, respect and confidence of our citizens. Legislators have a solemn responsibility to avoid improper behavior and refrain from conduct that is unbecoming to the Legislature or that is inconsistent with the Legislature’s ability to maintain the respect and trust of the people it serves. While it is not possible to write rules to cover every circumstance, each legislator must do everything in his or her power to deal honorably with the public and with his or her colleagues and must promote an atmosphere in which ethical behavior is readily recognized as a priority and is practiced continually, without fail [Joint Rule 1B-1, 2016].
Rep. Lust said he hesitates to itemize every kind of wrongdoing. Rep. Lust said itemizing every violation undermines the concept of a general code of conduct.
Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) disagreed, saying that if the code of conduct can spell out sexual harassment, they can spell out sexual contact. Senator Greenfield called it “shocking” that the Joint Rules do not already cover sexual contact between legislators and interns and pages.
Rep. Lust moved to kill the sexual contact prohibition. Rep. Mike Stevens (R-18/Yankton) seconded. The roll call vote was 9–5 in favor of killing the proposal:
- Aye: Curd, Frerichs, Haverly, Hawley, Langer, Lust, Maher, Novstrup, Stevens.
- Nay: Greenfield, Don Haggar, Mickelson, Peterson, Qualm.