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South Dakota House to investigate GOP lawmaker’s conduct

February 24, 2018

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House decided Friday to investigate a first-term Republican representative over allegations that he made a fellow lawmaker fearful for her safety during a heated argument this week at the Capitol.

Members voted 45-13 to establish a special committee on discipline and expulsion to investigate Rep. David Johnson. He apologized publicly to Republican Rep. Lynne DiSanto before the vote, saying his emotions got the better of him.

“I have been working with my family on this already. I have been consulting with my religious advisers on this already, and I am truly sorry,” said Johnson, who was first elected to the House in 2016. “I’ll take whatever this body decides that they want to do.”

Republican Rep. Dan Kaiser, one lawmaker who moved to form the investigative panel, said DiSanto and two witnesses told him Johnson approached DiSanto loudly and with a posture that made her fear being assaulted during Wednesday evening’s incident on the House floor. A witness escorted Johnson off the floor out of concern the situation would escalate, Kaiser said.

DiSanto didn’t immediately return a text message from The Associated Press for comment.

“This is very emotional. This weighs very heavy on her heart,” Kaiser said. “This weighs very heavy on all the legislators’ hearts that one individual put us in a position that could possibly be construed to make the entire body look bad.”

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm described the altercation as a “heated argument” after the two had discussed insurance legislation. He said they were “moving back and forth towards each other a little bit.”

Johnson didn’t describe his actions in detail during his apology and declined to comment further after the House ended its Friday session. Johnson also apologized privately, Qualm said.

“He’s admitted that he’s in the wrong on this,” Qualm said. “He knows that he stepped over the line, that he should not have done what he did.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety cited an exemption in South Dakota’s public records law in denying the AP access to security footage from the House chamber.

The panel will investigate Johnson’s conduct and could recommend penalties such as discipline or expulsion. Qualm said he doesn’t think it rises to expulsion.

South Dakota’s Legislature has rules requiring an atmosphere of civility and professional conduct. Lawmakers last month attended ethics, professionalism and sexual harassment training from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

House lawmakers last formed such a committee in 2017 to investigate a Republican representative who admitted to sexual contact with two interns. He later resigned.

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