Full Senate Rejects Ban on Legislator Sex with Interns and Pages

Al Novstrup talks a lot about how working in the Legislature is all about relationships. Maybe that’s why he keeps voting against banning sex between legislators and their young interns and pages.

Senator Novstrup voted with eight other legislators on the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee last Wednesday to reject a rule proposed by Senator Stace Nelson that would explicitly forbid legislators from having any sexual contact with any legislative intern or page.* Senator Novstrup voted against a similar rule that Senator Nelson brought to the floor Friday to protect young people from Capitol predators. Novstrup was one of seventeen Republican Senators voting no:

Vote on legislator–intern/page sex ban, as counted by Sen. Stace Nelson, 2017.01.13.
Vote on legislator–intern/page sex ban, as counted by Sen. Stace Nelson, 2017.01.13.

Democratic Minority Leader Billie Sutton* pulled his Democrats out of this fire. Senator Jason Frerichs voted against the sexual contact rule in committee but then came to caucus and said he didn’t see any reason not to support Senator Nelson’s revisitation of the rule. The five fearless Democrats present thus voted for the motion.

The rule Senator Nelson brought to the full Senate Friday was actually softer than the rule he proposed in committee Wednesday. His original rule was absolute—”No legislator may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page”—plus language about reporting and investigating. On Friday, Nelson was willing settle for just one no-nookie sentence with a new exception: “No legislator may have sexual contact with any legislative intern or page who is not the legislator’s fiancé or spouse.”

Fiancé?! Well, that probably killed Senator Nelson’s bill right there. How could the Senate, purveyors of wholesome sexual ethics for all South Dakotans, vote for any measure condoning premarital sex?

Senator Nelson’s softened language may have been meant to carve an exception for Rep. Mathew Wollmann, whose fiancée, according to her public Facebook postings, is an intern for the SDGOP:

Public Facebook post, retrieved 2017.01.15.
Public Facebook post, retrieved 2017.01.15.
Public Facebook post, retrieved 2017.01.15.
Public Facebook post, retrieved 2017.01.15.

I neither assume, assert, nor desire to know what sort of contact the newly affianced couple may be engaging in. I only note that the gracious Senator Nelson may have softened his rule to avoid raising unnecessary questions about any happy coupling. (Or maybe he was just doing a favor for his fellow Marine. Marines, like Republicans, do look out for each other like that.)

In speaking against Senator Nelson’s second try, Majority Leader R. Blake Curd said Friday that the Joint Rules had received enough discussion and that Senator Nelson’s concerns about sexual ethics in the Capitol have been sufficiently “asked and answered.” The majority (19 yeas on accepting the rules as reported from committee) followed their leader to that conclusion.

But Senator Novstrup must feel pretty strongly about this issue, even after national media attention, to put his name a second time to a vote that, on face, says, “I do not support a rule explicitly prohibiting me from having sex with an intern or page.”

*Correction 12:16 CST: I originally and incorrectly reported that Senator Sutton had voted against the rule change in committee. Senator Sutton does not serve on the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee. Senator Frerichs does, and he cast a vote to kill the no-contact rule in committee. Senator Frerichs then changed his mind for the floor vote. I apologize for the error.

*Correction #2 12:45 CST: I originally claimed that sex with pages under age 18 would already be a crime. However, a sharp commenter below notes that the age of consent in South Dakota is 16 (See SDCL 22-22-1).

48 Responses to Full Senate Rejects Ban on Legislator Sex with Interns and Pages

  1. Susan Wismer

    Cory, you’re better than this!! Have you read the joint rules?


    They already contain prohibitions against sexual harassment, just not in as titillating language as Stace insists on using in his bid for “I’m baaaaack” salacious publicity. He got his misleading headline in the Argus and here and who knows where else, but come on, give the legislators a little credit. Did you listen to the joint rules meeting? http://sdlegislature.gov/Legislative_Session/Committees/CommitteeMinutes.aspx?Committee=344&Session=2017

    I have not listened to the meetings–have only heard first-hand reports of them, but I hear that it was pointed out in the meetings that Stace’s proposal was redundant. Acting like you’re the first one with any common sense and drafting a provision that’s already in the rules or laws is a classic “I’m a legislator and I’m inventing the wheel and I’m going to make some headlines” tactic. And people fall for it!! Grrrr.

  2. Seems to me someone is obsessed with sex between consulting adults. :)

  3. Yes, I’ve read the joint rules on sexual harassment. I’m not convinced that “sexual harassment” encompasses “sexual contact.” Neither are the legislators who have written separate definitions for those terms.

    SDCL 22-22-7.1 says “sexual contact” includes “any touching” not amounting to rape. It does not mention consent.

    Surprisingly, my casual text search doesn’t find our statutory definition of sexual harassment, but SDCL 36-4-30 refers to “Engaging in gross or immoral sexual harassment or sexual contact,” indicating a legislative distinction between the two terms.

    Joint Rule 1B-3 offers this apparent definition of sexual harassment:

    This prohibition against harassment also encompasses sexual harassment including unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, non-verbal, or physical conduct of a sexually harassing nature, when: (1) submission to the harassment is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of employment or other employment determinations, or (2) the harassment has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

    The proposed rule raises the same question that arises on college campuses, in the military, and in any other hierarchical setting: should supervisors, superior officers, and others in positions of power engage in sexual relationships with members of the organization in lesser positions of power? That may be a conversation worth having. It was not the conversation that took place in committee, which had more alarming locker-room-style chuckles than detailed discussion.

    I understand Troy’s gibe—I lodge the same complaint against this Legislature on a regular basis. But there is friction between the concepts of “consent” and “power”.

    The Army goes beyond sex to much lesser consenting relationships, contending that even simple things like referring to certain subordinates by first name or socializing may create perceptions of favoritism that harm unit cohesion.

    As for salacious publicity, well, if the committee had just passed the rule without comment, there wouldn’t have been any salacious publicity.

    I have my doubts about the redundancy argument. I can’t think of any other good argument to oppose the rule. Politically, I can’t think of any good reason for anyone planning to run for reëlection to vote against explicitly forbidding sexual contact between legislators and young legislative employees.

  4. bearcreekbat

    many pages are under 18, so such contact will already put legislators in jail

    Incorrect, under SD law, it is lawful to have consensual sex with a person age 16 or older. SDCL 22-22-1. But taking a photo of that 16 year old will support a charge of child pornography under federal and state law. Go figure.

  5. What?! How did I miss that? I will delete that reference. Thanks, BearCB!

  6. Kiss and Tell

    Gross. As a former page (2004), pages are only concerned with other pages and interns. That basement ‘bill room’ was more like make-out central. Senate cloak room, too.

  7. bearcreekbat

    Right, that is what Troy must mean about consensual sex between adults negating the need for Nelson’s bill. What business is it of the State if a 30, 40, 50 or 60 year old legislator decides to convince a naive and impressionable 16 year old intern to let him do his thing to the kid? Really, Troy?

  8. Bear,

    On another thread here on this subject, I said more than once I was leaning to the prohibition with regard to interns and pages and was clearly in favor of a prohibition of pages (those who are under the age of 18 as interns are college age). I also laid out why I was only leaning to prohibition with regard to legislators and interns vs. unequivocal support.

    And, if you will read my above post clearly I ended my comment with a smiley face to indicate I was both noting the irony of CH having so many threads on this subject and his often “gibe” against conservatives when talking about sexual matters.

  9. Does anyone really doubt the need for an ethics commission now?

  10. bearcreekbat

    Troy, thanks for clarifying. I am not sure that our college age 18-21 year old interns are that much more advanced than those pages who are 16 and 17. And the possibility of legislator sexual predators (Ted Klaudt, for example) seems to justify Stace’s bill as one method to deter exploitation of these young people.

  11. Stace Nelson

    A Legislator currently serving, or served over the last two year, would either have to be living underneath a rock or have their head shoved so far in the sand that they were oblivious to their surroundings.

    I would recommend Rep Wismer to extricate herself from whichever intanglement caused her to be oblivious to the widespread notorious information which incited me to start drafting this rule back November 25th.

    If sexual contact is already prohibited? Please explain to the good people of SD why a “sexual predator” has been allowed to prey on pages and interns the previous two years in the House.

    After you check with your leadership and are informed of how misguided and inappropriate your unprofessional comments were, come back on here and announce how you and your collegues are going to handled the complaints of misconduct that were covered up.

  12. Which House Rep is preying on interns? That’s a really serious accusation.

  13. Bear,

    C’mon are you really going to make those arguments? We had a President who had sexual contact with an intern, 18 year olds are deemed old enough to make a myriad of decisions.

    If I were a State Senator, I’d probably with reservations support this rule but your arguments you posit would very possibly cause me to reconsider my position.

  14. Mr. Nelson, if this is true why not blow this story out to the public? This house member, no matter which party should be removed immediately. Anyone that has covered this up should be removed as well. These legislative sessions are held to be for the benefit of ALL SOUTH DAKOTANS. If this is true BLOW THE WHISTLE.

  15. “so many threads”?! Come on, Troy, it’s two! Two threads in five days when the Legislature isn’t doing much else and Bob Mercer isn’t there to report it! Run the scandal of the week up the Dem flagpole, and how many posts in a week does Pat do? ;-)

  16. Agreed completely, Dicta and Greg. Senator Nelson, you’ve leveled a serious accusation. If there is a predator in the fold, and if you’re going to say something to that effect in this forum, we need a name, not just for the news’s sake but for the sake of the young people your rule purported to protect. If the evidence doesn’t support naming a name, the evidence does not support making that vague accusation.

  17. My concern is that these vague accusations are used, in part, to push a piece of legislation that Mr. Nelson feels is necessary to protect people. If such legislation is truly necessary, I don’t accept “Trust me, you really want this” as justification and want to know which one of my elected representatives is acting in a sexually inappropriate manner. All I am left with now is a McCarthy-esque sort of gray area where I look to the South Dakota house and wonder which one of them is having predatory sex with pages.

  18. My goodness. There is a sexual predator over in Pierre preying upon interns the past 2 years and nobody has caught her? This will be huge news. And young Ms. Wismer, of course, was not in Pierre much the past 2 years because she was running for Governor.

  19. That’s why she probably wouldn’t know that. But Mr. Nelson wasn’t in Pierre and he knows it. Perhaps it will forever remain a mystery.

  20. bearcreekbat

    I’d probably with reservations support this rule but your arguments you posit would very possibly cause me to reconsider my position.

    What an odd idea. I can’t remember persuading you to change a position with any argument in the past, but it looks like I now have a new tool – I’ll just say I support something that you are considering supporting and that will get you to change your mind.

  21. Dicta,

    I don’t agree with you. If there was a Legislator who behaved within the prior rules and didn’t commit a crime, I don’t think Senator Nelson should disclose their name (remember there is also an intern who would be disclosed as well by rumor at minimum).

    There is a legal principle you can’t pass a law and prosecute people who committed the crime prior the passage of the law (forget the latin phrase). I think disclosing the specifics would be an example of prosecuting in the court of public opinion which should be avoided if at all possible and it is possible in this case.

    Senator Nelson’s position is simple: Legislators should be prohibited explicitly from sexual contact with interns and pages. If it happened in the past, it happened and was permitted. If it didn’t happen in the past, there is nothing wrong with being pre-emptive. In short, I think Senator Nelson unnecessarily got the discussion distracted from the point at hand- Should there be an explicit prohibition?

  22. Again, Stace’s recklessness rears its ugly head. You have leveled the claim of a “sexual predator” against/about a sitting elected official. If you have the goods to level this charge, then you should take the appropriate steps to “blow the whistle”, report it, or whatever. Just making that accusation like this and at the same time calling Wismer misguided, unprofessional, and inappropriate —- WOW.

    But then again, you still haven’t apologized for your Nesiba comments…..

    Vague allegations like this because your feelings got hurt are horrible. If you know something, go solve the problem, Stace. You also stated (NOT alleged) in your post that there was a cover up. And you are “reporting” that here and not doing anything about it? Unbelievable.

  23. But the Senator is already prosecuting in the court of public opinion by dropping such a bomb already. This past misdeed is already being used as rhetoric to push the law, but we are now being told that we don’t need to concern ourselves with the details regarding this supposed misdeed while at the same time using it as a basis for support for legislation. You want to put the genie back in the bottle, but you can’t.

  24. Sen. Nelson, are you alleging that lust was present the past 2 years? It seems to me that lust was term limited out for most of the last term. Welcome back to the legislature, lust!

  25. bearcreekbat

    There is a legal principle you can’t pass a law and prosecute people who committed the crime prior the passage of the law (forget the latin phrase).

    Ex Post Facto is the term you are looking for.

  26. In flagrante delicto is the term Sen. Nelson is looking for.

  27. Ex post facto discussion is a complete red herring. We aren’t looking to prosecute; we are looking for explanation, particularly because a Senator pushing the bill thought it relevant to bring up.

  28. bearcreekbat

    Ror, your comment about David Lust reminded me that Cory’s link to the national story was either intentionally or inadvertently designed to make a joke out of our “lustful” legislature. Next to the headline we see a photo of an unidentified SD legislator at a podium, and a gold sign with only the word “Lust” showing. Anyone who did not recognize the speaker might have wondered why the term “Lust” was the only word on the golden sign. Googling it they would have found this:


    – noun
    1. very strong sexual desire.
    “he knew that his lust for her had returned” . . . .

    – verb
    1. have a very strong sexual desire for someone.
    “he really lusted after me in those days”. . . .

    Near the end the article finally identifies the speaker as David Lust.

  29. Bingo, bear.

  30. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Sen. Nelson (which may change from one issue to the next) he is there to do something about something. He’s not a clueless seat warmer waiting for instructions from party leadership. I give him credit for that.

  31. Troy, interesting point about ex post facto prosecution. However, if an action that Nelson’s rule would have prohibited happened in the past, it was not necessarily permitted under prior rules (or the current unchanged rules). Lust and colleagues justified rejecting Nelson’s rule by contending that such conduct is improper under existing rules.

    The majority in the Senate thus appear to believe that if such conduct takes place this Session, that conduct can and should be reported to leadership as a violation of existing rules. If Senator Nelson knows of such conduct, Joint Rule 1A-4 compels him to report it to the Senate President. If another employee knows of such conduct, Joint Rule 3-7 compels that employee to report that conduct to “the president pro tempore of the Senate, speaker of the House or any supervisor. If the situation is not resolved, the employee shall forward the complaint to the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council.”

  32. Roger Cornelius

    Senator Nelsson’s credibility and integrity are on the line by announcing that there is/was a sexual predator lurking around the capitol.
    If he doesn’t name the alleged legislator here, he has a moral and ethical obligation to report these actions to law enforcement and legislative leadership.
    It isn’t all about the rules of the legislature is about the rule of law and protecting underage children from predators.
    There should be no protection what so ever to protect legislators from illegal activity, after all they are citizens just like the rest of us.
    For God sake Stace, speak up and help protect the children.

  33. Mr. Nelson is probably opening himself up to some ex-post factoids if he does not name the alleged perp and a bad thing happens.

    And I bet Mr. Lust has heard all those jokes before but he’s chuckling over his brandy right now, I’m just sayin…

  34. Stace Nelson

    ALCON, I contacted LRC in November after colleagues confirmed in person but there was a problem in the house for two years. Since I am in the Senate, and as per legislative rules, the only thing I can do is forward on the information. In each occurrence I did so immediately to whom I thought was the proper authorities. I have passed on the information I received too House leadership last week. I was informed they were aware of the problem and had received complaints in the past.

    The descriptor “sexual predator” was that of legislators who personally observed the problems over the last two years.

    At this point, it is in the hands of Representative Wismer and her colleagues. Please address your concerns and questions to them

  35. My guess is that once Mr. Nelson public notifications here of the existence of the alleged pervert defiling interns hits the papers and once those fellows like Mr. Mickelson and Mr. Qualm get done castigating the perp in the caucuses this individual will be well served to keep their nose clean. There are some meaner fellows that could sort them out there in the Research Council if need be.

  36. I should have said Mr. Hawley and Ms. Wismer get done castigating, too, because we don’t know which hat this individual wears or the color of their trousers. Clearly if Mr. Nelson is saying Ms. Wismer needs to deal with this, then we can infer what we might from that.

  37. LOL OKay. 2018 is going to be a whole new ball game.

  38. (Boy, Stace, you and Michels are sure piling on the military argot. I had to go look up ALCON—”all concerned”.)

    To itemize the important claims Senator Nelson makes:

    1. Legislators have been aware of a problem in the House for two years.
    2. Nelson reported improper sexual conduct to authorities.
    3. Nelson reported improper sexual conduct to House leadership last week.
    4. House leadership was aware of the problem.
    5. House leadership had received similar reports in the past (about the same problem? by the same problem-maker?)
    6. Other legislators—plural—used the term “sexual predator” to describe the person committing the problem behavior.

    From the statements placed on the record, we do not know whether a problem really occurred. Senator Nelson’s claims appear to be entirely hearsay. The claim of multiple witnesses lends credence to the claim that something happened, but we have not heard from any witnesses, and Senator Nelson is the only person saying there are witnesses.

    We do not know whether leadership took action. Either leadership took action quietly, or leadership took no action.

  39. (Meanwhile, Pat Powers counts buttons and mutters about affronts to citizen activists. Where’s his inside dope from his friends in leadership? Hasn’t the SDGOP written the script they want Pat to use to marginalize Nelson again? Heck, Susan Wismer’s already written that script for him above. But hey, we know who in the blogosphere writes his own stories and who has stories thrust upon him.)

  40. Wasn’t 2 years ago about the time they booted that one fellow who used to run the Council of Research out unceremoniously and hired some new guy?

  41. Curtis Price

    I am an adjunct professor at SDSMT and there is a policy that is pretty clear on this. Professors cannot date students and that’s that. I realize that this situation is a little different but the unequal power relationship is similarly extreme. Here’s the policy; I wish Sen Nelson had cribbed from some of this text and put in some legislature-specific situational verbiage. https://www.sdbor.edu/policy/documents/1-23.pdf

  42. Curtis, that’s a very useful model rule and rationale:

    When individuals exercising power delegated by the Board make work-related or academic decisions about people with whom they have sexual relationships, their conduct may give rise to the appearance, if not the reality, of favoritism or other self-serving motive. Even the appearance of such improper motives can diminish the confidence that students and employees have in the integrity of institutional decision-making and thereby disrupt the institutional workplace or academic processes. While the state and federal constitutions generally limit the power of government to regulate intimate relationships, government may impose reasonable restrictions to assure that actions taken on behalf of the people are free from actual or apparent favoritism or other self-serving motives [SDBOR Policy 1-23].

    I note that the SDBOR policy directly exempts only married couples, not engaged couples. Fascinating to think that Stace Nelson is more liberal about sexual relations than the Board of Regents.

    The Regents have a whole separate sexual harassment policy (SDBOR Policy 1-17).

  43. I am confused. Does Senator Nelson know this with firsthand knowledge which he got corroborating information from legislators or is he relying on comments of others, upon which he lodged a complaint?

    Also, I still don’t know the relevance of past behavior. The question Senator Nelson put before the Legislature is whether the legislature should specifically prohibit this legal behavior between consulting adults. Personally, because of the uniqueness of the legislator-intern relationship, I think they should prohibit. As it looks like they have decided differently, the issue is resolved for the next two years.

  44. Stace Nelson

    Mr Jones,
    The last successful sexual crimes prosecution, in my long career, was May 2016 in Utah on a case I worked on in Japan in 2005. Every case I ever worked, and successfully helped prosecute, was initiated and corroborated by witness testimony.

    The oldest case I ever worked on was over 15 years old, where administrative jurisdiction for a security clearance was the only venue left. Based off the preponderance of the 15 year old testimonial evidence, the subject was denied a security clearance, and ultimately forced to retire.

    The second leadership was presented with any information indicating a legislator was even attempting to have personal relationships with pages or interns, administratively & morally they were obligated to take action to stop such unethical conduct that they have stated are abosulutely prohibited by legislative ethical guidelines.

    In every case I ever worked, co-workers would invariably rise to the defense of the indefensible after the subject routinely attempted to cast doubt on victim, witnesses, and investigating assists. I’ve lost count of how many subjects claimed they were winning multimillion dollar lawsuits for wrongful prosecution or “vendettas.”

    There is no defense for the indefensible.

    These situations are always made worse by those who attempt to mitigate the damages.

  45. Senator Nelson,

    I just asked the question because I was confused. Initially, I was under the impression (may have read into something) you had firsthand direct knowledge (as direct as it can be short of actually seeing the act) and then the impression you were relying on what was told to you which as you know is a different level of information. As I’ve said many times, I’m not sure the relevance of the past as I think it is legitimate to just assert it should be explicitly prohibited whether it occurred or not.

  46. Darin Larson


    The past is certainly relevant to the discussion if the reason being given for not passing the new rule is that it is prohibited by current ethics rules. If the existing rules have not precluded the past behavior at issue or resulted in disciplinary action, then it would seem more clearly worded prohibitions need to be in place to discourage this unacceptable conduct.

  47. Blake Curd; isn’t he one of the people in direct violation of Article 3, Section 12 of our state constitution? Talk about the need for an ethics commission.

  48. “specifically prohibit this legal behavior”—hold on, Troy. Sex between a legislator and an intern or page may be legal, but the committee appeared to agree that such behavior is already a violation of the Joint Rules on sexual harassment.