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Rules Committee Votes Down Ban on Legislators Having Sex with Pages and Interns

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.


  1. Donald Pay 2017-01-11 22:01

    I’d rather see a Joint Rule that says, “Legislators shall refrain from screwing the public.” I suppose we’ll have to define “screwing” for them, because they can’t seem to understand “corruption.”

  2. grudznick 2017-01-11 22:04

    It is slightly disturbing that the rules have not been placed to prevent the legislatures, or at least one or two of them who fear these sort of things happening to themselves unless there is a rule banning it.

    Fear. Bigger government proposed by Mr. Nelson could make him sleep better at night. *wink wink*

  3. grudznick 2017-01-11 22:06

    I wonder if Mr. Nelson’s “certain events” refer to anybody currently in the legislatures and if these people, or this person, was a (D) or an (R). Did Mr. Nelson spell that out?

  4. Joe Nelson 2017-01-11 22:25

    Too bad this did not get through. General codes of conduct work to a point, but it always good to explicitly forbid something (such as, don’t discriminate against LGBTQ), it helps ensure that people follow the code.

  5. grudznick 2017-01-11 22:36

    Mr. Nelson, I hope the other Mr. Nelson, the one in the legislatures, brings law bills that do exactly this thing you want and he filibusters it all. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how robust that other Mr. Nelson is when it comes to filibustering. Can he go two days, every week, for the whole sessions of the legislatures? I don’t think so. He will crack, he is not as tough as Mr. Rhoden or Mr. Gosch.

  6. grudznick 2017-01-11 22:51

    I, for one, think Mr. Nelson, the one in the legislatures, honestly didn’t care about the (R) or (D) issue with his sex bill. I think he means it all honestly. He’s not very partisan. Just insaner than most.

  7. grudznick 2017-01-11 23:04

    Mr. Pay, you need to understand that Mr. Greenfield does need to have sexual contact and screwing explained to him, defined in the law bills, and read over and over again. Or at least it seems that way.

  8. Darin Larson 2017-01-11 23:06

    I think that if there is one place to have a belt and suspenders approach to legislator conduct, it is in this area. Given some of the knot heads that get sent to Pierre, I think it best to spell it out in no uncertain terms. Then you don’t have the George Costanza’s of the world saying “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that. I got to plead ignorance on this thing. If anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon. Cause I gotta tell you that I’ve worked in a lot of offices and I gotta tell you that people do that all the time.”

  9. grudznick 2017-01-11 23:11

    Mr. Larson, you may be righter than right on this after I have read your thoughts.
    Maybe we need to go back to Mr. Nelson bringing a law bill instead of this thing he was doing and that all the legislatures vote about it. Make it a record in the public. Make them all sign a pledge to not do stupid things.

    Mr. Larson has a good idea here.

  10. Bob Newland 2017-01-11 23:31

    so now grudznick can continue to bag interns with no consequence

  11. clcjm 2017-01-12 00:20

    What could possibly be the downside of spelling this out?? I know that there’s a fear of big government or government that they don’t own or control! But I would think right now with the controversy over IM22 and the lack of ethics that they would want to prevent any chance of any abuse of power or influence. Or at least the appearance of it!

  12. private richard 2017-01-12 00:58

    Being a good Republican, thus believing government over-reach, primarily because of Obama’s administration this past eight years, is rampant and must be opposed in every circumstance, I would appreciate if Mr. Nelson would also consider drafting legislation prohibiting sexual contact between interns and pages. God knows it was distracting if memory serves.

  13. Mark Winegar 2017-01-12 02:48

    A legal definition of “SEXUAL CONTACT” is readily available to anyone who cares enough to Google it. It reads, “The intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person. 18 USC” So there is no need for Rep. Lust to “itemize every kind of wrongdoing” or for the committee vote down ethical rules prohibiting sex with interns and pages.


  14. Jana 2017-01-12 08:06

    As I read this the GOP legislators are protecting their right to have consensual sexual contact with pages and interns which would not fall under the harassment definition.

    If Stace Nelson has knowledge of sexual activity happening between a page or intern and a legislator then he has the moral duty to report this activity.

  15. Jenny 2017-01-12 08:12

    It wouldn’t be the SD legislature if there wasn’t the weekly sex bill.

  16. Rorschach 2017-01-12 08:55

    Senator Nelson should turn his attention to the issue of lobbyists making sexy time with legislators or legislators making sexy time with each other outside the bounds of holy matrimony.

  17. Troy 2017-01-12 09:43

    While I get both sides of the argument and they have merits, I lean toward being explicit that this is specifically prohibited. I’m firmly of the position being explicit with regard to pages because of their age. The interns are generally older and private behavior (even that which I personally don’t endorse) is just that-private between two adults. The reason I lean to being explicit is to some degree members are part of the whole which is not the case with private or government entities.

    In general, companies and governmental entities prohibit rather broadly sexual harassment but allow sexual contact when the contact is consensual and doesn’t involve direct reports. In my opinion, failure to be explicit has an element of defaulting in whole or in part to that general private sector/government standard. For instance, the general code of conduct may prohibit contact between a member and an intern who works in the same body or which there is formal work contact but what about when the legislator and intern work in different bodies generally interact only after hours?

    Jana, your statement “GOP legislators are protecting their right to have consensual sexual contact” is false. Both of the Democrats voted with the majority not to explicitly prohibit sexual contact. If they had switched, the vote would have been a tie.

  18. Rod Hall 2017-01-12 09:48

    With the Republicans in Washington D C approving a “grab them by the pussy President” Sen Nelson is correct in preventing that activity at Pierre!

  19. Jerry K. Sweeney 2017-01-12 09:51

    I shall warrant tasking Mr. Lust to make the motion was the GOP majority offering insult to a tone deaf injury.

  20. Adam 2017-01-12 11:16

    South Dakota, clearly, has no real future – just like it doesn’t really have much of a past. People say they want jobs so very bad, it’s the top polling issue, but really all they want is more religion in government.

    We live in dumb dumb land. SD politics is incorrigible.

  21. Adam 2017-01-12 11:23

    It’s ‘real’ conservative to have a long drawn out conversation about outlawing sex.

  22. Roger Cornelius 2017-01-12 11:42

    What inspired Stace Nelson to bring this bill?
    Since having consensual/non-consensual sex with minors is already illegal, is Stace suggesting that legislators having been getting away with having unreported sexual contact with minors?
    If legislators are having sex with pages and interns his oath of office requires him to report it.
    Does Stace Nelson’s bill say what the consequences should be if a legislator is having sexual contact with a page or intern?

  23. Jana 2017-01-12 12:53

    Thanks for pointing that out Troy. Let me fix it for you.

    “7 Republican and 2 Democratic legislators are protecting their right to have consensual sexual contact with pages and interns which would not fall under the harassment definition.”

    Do we have names to go with these votes? You know, that whole accountability thing.

    Stace, thanks for bringing this to the panel.

  24. Adam 2017-01-12 13:32

    Thank you, conservatives, for pointing out one of the most critical issues of our time in South Dakota. Sex is truly out of control in Pierre; there is hardly a more important thing to address in the next legislative cycle.

    Too bad SD conservatives did a 180 on family values when they gave our whole state to Trump – and now they’re back at it, pretending it’s paramount.

  25. Troy 2017-01-12 14:00


    Here would be the most accurate fix in context: 60% of the Republicans and 100% of the Democrats of the committee voted not to explicitly prohibit sexual contact between legislators and interns/pages.

    CH provided the names at the top. Committee votes are a matter of public record and available on the LRC website. Plenty of accountability.

  26. Douglas Wiken 2017-01-12 15:41

    I guess legislators are so sanctimonious they assume that such sexual contact can’t possibly occur with such a collection of god-fearing solons.

    I am pretty sure such contact has occurred in the legislature even if it was years ago and probably, gasp, involved Democrats.

    Legislators just keep doing things which diminishes respect for them.

  27. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-12 17:46

    Hey, Private Richard! Is “government over-reach” a euphemism here?

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-12 18:01

    Jana raises an important point not emphasized in the other press: Senator Nelson appears to know about specific instances of sexual contact between legislators and young people—college age or younger—over whom they have or had authority. He seems to know about behavior that, with or without his explicit rule, would generally be recognized as inappropriate, if not disqualifying for Legislative service.

    Regardless of the status of his proposed rule change, is Jana correct to say Senator Nelson has an obligation to report this activity?

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-12 18:04

    Troy makes another important point: this is not a partisan political story. Dems don’t get to whack the GOP with this one, since Democrats Sutton and Hawley both helped kill the rule.

    As an undercard, I’ll point to the Dems’ votes as a missed opportunity. They would have lost nothing in voting for Nelson’s rule. They would even have signaled to Nelson their willingness to work with him in opposition to the GOP mainstream and perhaps won a little give from Nelson to support them on some of their policy initiatives.

  30. Troy 2017-01-13 07:51


    Do we really want to get in the business of disclosing consensual private behavior between adults which had not been prohibited? The desire for disclosure strikes me as more purient than really something we need to know. As you know I’m not exactly a sexual libertine but I’m not sure the specifics is something to be disclosed with names. And the second we disclose “generalities”, someone will pursue and disclose names. I appreciate Sen. Nelson’s discretion.

    Let me be clear. I think a member (and vice versa the intern) who has sex with an intern is being stupid. Further, I lean toward thinking the rule is a good idea. But, I don’t endorse it wholeheartedly because this is private behavior and if this rule is approved, private behavior between adults becomes a matter of public interest where both parties are going to be exposed and rumors will become matters to be investigated.

    Regarding a missed opportunity, Frerichs (not Sutton) and Hawley voted their conscience. I don’t agree with the majority (R or D) but I get their rationale. Do we have to make everything a matter of political opportunism?

  31. Private Richard 2017-01-15 10:45

    Yes, Cory. Rampant you-know-what-grabbing is going on everywhere there are Democrats involved, and has been the norm during Obama’s regime. It’s time for us good Republicans to put a stop to it. We long ago learned legislating personal morality/behaviour promotes liberty for all, and now is no time to stop. Just like 2nd Amendment rights. When every freedom-lover can walk around anywhere with a gun on her/his hip freedom will ring. I won’t even mention the over-reach in Roe v Wade. Unmentionable you-know-what-grabbing going on in that one. OMG! Where’s a good Republican legislator start?

    Go Stace, Go!

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