A legislative panel in the South Dakota state Senate struck down a proposed rule change that would have explicitly banned state senators from engaging in sexual acts with interns, the Argus Leader reported Wednesday.
The primary sponsor for the rule, Sen. Stace Nelson (R), told the paper that the change was necessary because state lawmakers have previously engaged in sexual harassment and sexual contact with interns and high school pages. He said at least one lawmaker faces charges for allegedly groping a legislative page in 2007.
“The facts are, this body went through a very public and ugly trial about a decade ago. There’s been events in history that indicate these rules should have been put in stone and they haven’t,” Nelson told the Argus Leader. “This is a rule we brought forth to address this so that there is no gray area.”
Squabbles arose when Nelson told the panel that specific language needed to be put in place that would prevent lawmakers from engaging in sexual acts with interns, as opponents of the change said that there are already laws on the books barring such behavior.
“I’m hesitant to pass something when we get into itemizing every potential wrongdoing that a legislator could commit, lest this become a criminal code rather than a code of ethics,” Rep. David Lust (R), pictured above, told the Argus Leader.
The state legislature’s Rule 1A-4 states “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.”
The state Senate’s Joint Legislative Procedure Committee voted 9-5 against the rule change.