Panel named to review lawmaker conduct code, but never met

March 7, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A top South Dakota legislative official appointed a special panel earlier this year to review state lawmakers’ code of conduct after a Democratic senator proposed new anti-harassment rules. The panel never met.

Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd, the special panel’s chairman, said he doesn’t think there’s a “compelling reason” for the group to convene. He told lawmakers Tuesday that the issue is well-handled in the Legislature’s current rulebook and best left until next session. The main part of the 2018 legislative session ends this week.

“Just because we have a committee doesn’t mean we have to have a hearing, right? It doesn’t. There’s no requirement in statute that we meet,” Curd told The Associated Press.

But others argue harassment at the Capitol should have been reviewed this year.

Susan Kroger, co-chair of LEAD South Dakota, a nonprofit group that encourages women to enter politics, said the lack of action tells her that lawmakers aren’t taking the issue seriously.

“I’m very disappointed that they’ve chosen not to follow through on their commitment to look into this issue and make changes in order to create a space that women really feel safe in,” Kroger said.

Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield named the group in January to look into the code of conduct after Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton proposed rules changes that would have required nonpartisan legislative staff to conduct investigations into harassment allegations. Lawmakers didn’t adopt the changes.

The discussions followed news reports about women who experienced sexism and harassment around the South Dakota statehouse. Last year, a House lawmaker who admitted to having sexual contact with two interns resigned.

Greenfield said he brought up the issue Tuesday in the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee because he didn’t want to leave the impression that “it’s remained unaddressed and that we haven’t pursued the action that we said we would pursue.” Greenfield said he would be seeking additional information.

Curd cited ethics, professionalism and sexual harassment training held in January for lawmakers and staff in telling the Joint Legislative Procedure Committee about the special panel’s lack of action this year. Curd also said he chose not to calendar meetings for the review panel in part because of discussion about the training with Sutton.

Sutton said he didn’t speak to Curd about the special panel. Sutton, a Democrat running for governor, said he wishes the issue had been dealt with this legislative session.

“The reality is, at the very least, they could have met and even said, ‘We don’t think changes are necessary,’” Sutton said. “But they didn’t even meet at all.”

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