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Jensen Accuses Langer of Drunkenness During Session; Rhoden Stonewalls

Many remarkable things happened during yesterday’s historic online Veto-Plus Day meeting of the South Dakota Legislature, which rolled into the wee hours of this Tuesday. Among them is this final motion, ruling, and vote, as recorded in the Senate Journal and recorded at 3:22:50 in the SDPB video:

Sen. Phil Jensen moved to convene a disciplinary committee to investigate claims that Senator Langer is intoxicated and is tending to interrupt proceedings of both the House and Senate adjacent to South Dakota Codified Law 2-4-14, subsection 2.

President Rhoden moved that Sen. Phil Jensen’s motion was out of order.

Sen. Phil Jensen appealed the ruling of the President.

The question being “Shall the ruling of the President be sustained?”

And the roll being called:

Yeas 4, Nays 26, Excused 5, Absent 0

Yeas:

Phil Jensen, Monroe, Ernie Otten, and Youngberg

Nays:

Blare, Bolin, Cammack, Castleberry, Curd, Duhamel, Ewing, Brock Greenfield, Heinert, Kennedy, Klumb, Kolbeck, Lake, Langer, Nesiba, Novstrup, Partridge, Rusch, Schoenfish, Soholt, Stalzer, Steinhauer, Sutton, White, Wiik, and Wismer

Excused:

Foster, Maher, Russell, Schoenbeck, and V. J. Smith

So the question having not received an affirmative vote of a majority of the members-elect, the President declared the ruling of the President was sustained [Senate Journal, 37th Legislative Day, 2020.03.30–31].

President Larry Rhoden said he was at a loss at why Senator Jensen would move for such an action at the last moment of the hearing. He advised there were no legislative days left for convening a disciplinary hearing. Senator Jensen suggested the hearing take place immediately.

Rhoden left his seat in the Capitol meeting room, and the legislators and other unrecovered Craig Ferguson fans still following the show were left with a quiet livestream until Rhoden returned with a parliamentary trick to evade this thorny accusation: the President ruled that the motion could not be considered because Senator Jensen, who was calling in remotely like the majority of the body, was not able to present the request in writing.

This position is absurd: if the Legislature was able to conduct its most important function, voting, from any corner of the state, it should have been able to take a motion for a disciplinary hearing remotely as well. Jensen banged out a written notification and submitted it via Speaker Steven Haugaard. The video shows President Rhoden taking a piee of paper from the secretary and acknowledging that he had received a notification. “My ruling stands,” said President Rhoden.

Prior to that stubborn and disorderly ruling, Senator Brock Greenfield assured the Senate that, while everybody was a little bit punchy, nobody had “indulged”. Evidently Greenfield and Langer were both at the Capitol. Greenfield said that there had been a recess six and a half hours prior to this late-night wrap-up, but beyond that, “there’s been no tomfoolery.” Greenfield assured the public that all Senators had been doing the people’s business throughout the day and that “the Senator has been nothing but professional throughout the day.”

There was perhaps no tomfoolery, but Bob Mercer saw barefootery and other behavior that caught several lawmakers’ attention:

An hour earlier, several Republican and Democratic legislators had told KELOLAND News to check out Langer’s behavior.

She was seen barefoot in room 413, which was the Senate’s base of operation during the final day. She also was spotted barefoot in the hallway outside, and in room 499.

Her diction was loose, her walk unsteady [Bob Mercer, “Lawmaker Accuses Senate Republican Leader of Intoxication at South Dakota Capitol in Session,” KELO-TV, 2020.03.31].

At 3:24 a.m., on the SDPB video, a female voice was heard to whisper, “Can I talk?” President Rhoden ignored that voice and ruled Senator Jensen’s motion out of order.

Senator R. Blake Curd said it would be appropriate to pursue this serious allegation through the Executive Board after adjournment and ascertain the facts. He said a disciplinary hearing at the end of this Legislative day could disrupt the timing of the relief bills being passed… which seems specious, since the bills had already passed and were on the way to the Governor. Senator Curd noted that a complaint should have two complainants and that he hadn’t heard the name of the person who seconded Jensen’s motion.

President Rhoden abused parliamentary procedure to protect a Senator from an unseemly but serious accusation that is supported by independent observation. Senator Jensen should pursue his complaint with the Executive Board, and we should hear whether Senate Majority Leader Langer carried out her duties to the people of South Dakota with all due seriousness and sobriety.

28 Comments

  1. Donald Pay 2020-03-31

    My mom always told me why I had a midnight curfew, “Nothing good every happens after midnight.” I thought this was something she made up, but later in life I learned this was written in the Bible or something. I don’t think I ever pulled that verse out to use on my daughter, because she always followed the rules, except when she didn’t, which was twice, if I remember correctly.

    Maybe the Legislature should take a hint from my mom and that Bible verse, and adjourn at a reasonable hour. I’m sorry, but lack of sleep makes anyone a little addled, which explains why most legislation passed after, oh, let’s say 8:00 pm, seems as if it was written by your drunk uncle.

    See, I don’t know what’s worse, drinking after midnight while making emergency laws, or accusing a woman of drinking after midnight based on her not having shoes on. Maybe she didn’t have shoes on for a good reason: foot cramps, diabetes complications, heart/circulation issues, etc. That might explain the diction issues as well. Good grief, Jensen, take your medication, or a stiff drink and simmer down.

    And as far as abusing parliamentary procedure to get rid of bullcrap accusations made at such an hour, I say thank you , Rhoden.

  2. jerry 2020-03-31

    Maybe Jensen thought he would be paid for that special meeting. Guy is kind of sneaky snake anyway, so who knows. Remember, it always is about the money with republicans, always about how much they can jab in their long pockets.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-03-31

    Jensen wanted immediate action; I don’t sense an angling for a paycheck. Something was going on, and Jensen wasn’t the only legislator to notice, according to Bob Mercer, who independently reported Langer’s questionable condition.

  4. Donald Pay 2020-03-31

    I get more than a little miffed at people who think their observations are some sort of sobriety check. There are any number of medical reasons why people may be having balance issues or acting differently. There are also med interactions that happen. Unless the accusers took a blood sample or saw her imbibing, they have no case. The lack of concern for what might have been a medical problem really concerns me far more than whether she was tipsy.

  5. Debbo 2020-03-31

    What does being barefoot have to do with anything?! That part is just silly.

  6. jerry 2020-03-31

    Add pregnant and you get the picture of why they hate women.

  7. Bob Newland 2020-04-01

    The mere fact that Jensen was on one side of this makes me tend to cheer for the other side.

  8. T 2020-04-01

    i’m not seeing this exchange on the video you posted, nor the time indicated…???

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-01

    T, that’s strange! I think SDPB changed the video. Scroll toward the end, see if another non-blue-screen portion pops up. It was in the wee hours.

  10. James 2020-04-01

    SDPB has scrubbed the video. Another coverup and Dem leadership is in on it. Youngberg was the second to Phil’s motion. This is deep state cover up trash.

  11. grudznick 2020-04-01

    Yes, Mr. H, they have buried the evidence in the Youtubes.

    And I’m with my good friend Bob on this. If Mr. Jensen initiated this tomfoolery, he is just attacking this pretty young woman out of spite. And she should be able to wear stiletto heels or go barefoot as she sees fit.

  12. grudznick 2020-04-01

    Mr. jerry, I had no idea the young Ms. Langer was pregnant too. The could explain her unsteady gait.

  13. Ryan 2020-04-02

    Wait, so now we are back to expecting actual evidence of wrongdoing rather than just believing all accusations? When did this happen? I can’t keep up.

    Sounds like she was drunk and plenty of people know it but are helping her get away with it. I wonder why so few people have faith in our state government.

  14. T 2020-04-02

    so where is the video? is she actually pregnant…at 50?! what the hey?

  15. jerry 2020-04-02

    It’s clear that many have never heard of “”Barefoot and pregnant” is a figure of speech most commonly associated with the controversial idea that women should not work outside the home and should have many children during their reproductive years. It has several other meanings as well.”

    I guess only Jensen republicans have ever heard of that phrase.

    See, Debbo said barefoot… and I added pregnant…just being honest as to what I think goes through Jensen republican minds. BTW, just because your 50 doesn’t mean a thing as far as being able to conceive, sometimes it helps if you’ve been imbibing.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-02

    Senator Greenfield’s cover for Langer and avowal that he’s been with the Senator all night and that they had not overindulged or engaged in any tomfoolery begins at 6:11:25.

  17. bearcreekbat 2020-04-03

    Perhaps I missed something but only the statute I noticed in Cory’s story cited as a basis for disciplining Lange is SDCL 2-4-14. She is alleged to have violated subsection 2, which reads:

    . . . The Senate or the House of Representatives may punish, as a contempt, by imprisonment, a breach of its privileges or the privileges of its members; but only for one or more of the following offenses:
    . . .
    (2) Disorderly conduct in the immediate view of the Senate or the House of Representatives, and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings;

    . . . .

    I see nothing in this section (nor anywhere else in the statute for that matter) auhorizing a punishment for drinking alcohol, becoming intoxicated or otherwise alcohol related. Maybe there is some other relevant statute not mentioned in the story, but if not, then Langer’s alleged alcohol consumption or intoxication seems an inappropriate basis for any sanction. Shouldn’t the only relevant issue be whether her intentional behavior was both disorderly and directly tended to interrupt proceedings, without inappropriate speculation about the possible reasons for that behavior?

    And if intoxication is simply irrelevant, then I agree with Debbo, how is being barefoot either disorderly or disruptive? The other alleged transgressions that “Her diction was loose, her walk unsteady” or that “a female voice was heard to whisper, “Can I talk?”, seem trivial and insubstantial rather than disorderly or disruptive.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-03

    Bear, I find drinking while legislating at least as offensive and irresponsible as legislating while driving. SDCL 2-4-9 may consider it a Class 2 misdemeanor:

    Every person who intentionally disturbs the Legislature of this state, or either of the branches composing it, while in session, or who commits any disorderly conduct in the immediate view and presence of either branch of the Legislature tending to interrupt its proceedings or impair the respect due to its authority, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.[SDCL 2-9-4].

  19. bearcreekbat 2020-04-03

    Cory. the problem is that you are adding new conduct that personally offends you to the statutory language of SDCL 2-4-9 or 2-4-14. Neither statute prohibits use of alcohol or intoxication. While personal distain for another’s lawful behavior is certainly not unusual, due process generally requires that the public be informed if any particular conduct or activity that you find offensive is to be prohibited. Here that simply does not seem to be the case – there is no statutory warning whatsoever that drinking or intoxication is a prohibited act. Under these circumstances it seems extraordinarily unfair and likely unconstitutional to seek sanctions against an individual based on allegations of behavior not mentioned or implied by the statute.

    Alcohol and intoxication affects individual conduct in many different ways. If someone behaves in a disorderly or disrupive manner while under the influence they should be held accountable. But that accountability should be for the behavior, not for imbibing a substance that is not even mentioned, let alone prohibited, by the relevant statutes.

    This would also apply to your other example: “legislating while driving.” While you might find such behavior offensive or dangerous, unless the statute prohibits it, it does not seem to be a valid basis for sanctions.

    Perhaps an amendment to the controlling statute would satisfy your desire to control the use of alcohol in the legislature. A statute explicitly prohibits the excessive use of alcohol while driving and thereby clearly informs the public that it is a crime to drive either in an impaired state or with a BAC above a set level. SDCL 2-4-9 or 2-4-14 could be amended to impose the same restrictions on legislators during session. But until then, it is offensive to use a statute without such restrictions to punish a legislator.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-03

    Do legislators have to cite a violation of statute to censure or expel a member?

  21. bearcreekbat 2020-04-03

    I would think that the both the state and federal explicit constitutional due process limitations on the power of government would require some statutory or constitutional basis to invoke the power of the State to punish (censure or expel) a legislator. Perhaps that is why SDCL 2-4-14 was cited as a basis for sanctioning Langer. I can’t think of any examples where purely arbitrary acts by government officials that adversely affect the rights of individuals are permitted.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-04-06

    But didn’t Trump make that same argument, that he had to violate some specific statute in order to be impeached?

    The state constitution makes each chamber the sole decider of the qualifications of its members to serve.

  23. mike from iowa 2020-04-06

    How did these alleged kristians forego moral turpitude clauses in their revamping the constitution?

  24. bearcreekbat 2020-04-06

    Cory, I think you are right about Trump. And upon reflection the argument seems constitutionally sound under the theory that before the power of a limited government becomes available to deprive someone of liberty or property interests, due process requires advance warning of conduct that will trigger such a use of governmental power.

  25. Donald Pay 2020-04-06

    I would think if legislators can’t be drunk on something and legislate, than we best toss out the South Dakota Codified Laws. Most are drunk on ignorance, some on power, a few on bourbon or beer. Really, alcohol is the least of the problems in Pierre. If they really want to clean it up, it might be best to start with the ignorant and work down from there.

  26. Ray Harwood 2020-08-30

    Not able to submit his request in writing? Don’t know SD law specifically but most states say electronic communication that can be converted to paper is “written”… he should have been allowed to submit via email.

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