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Lawmakers Leave Harassment Policy Change For Future Legislature

When state lawmakers first convened in January, State Senator Billie Sutton requested the legislative procedure committee take a closer look at code of conduct.

The request came after several reported stories of sexual assault and harassment in Pierre during session. Republican leadership says the code of conduct and reporting process are sufficient.

However, the rules committee agreed to appoint a subcommittee to take a closer look at rules on sexual harassment and reporting, but the subcommittee never met.

The National Conference of State Legislatures—a bipartisan group that advocates for state legislatures—gave an ethics and sexual harassment training to lawmakers and employees in January.

During that training, presenters often pointed to South Dakota’s rules for reporting harassment as sufficient.

Jump ahead to the last week of session. The rules committee meet to set the calendar and rules for next year’s legislative session. The last agenda item is on the joint rules for sexual harassment and reporting, but the subcommittee organized to look at that issue never convened.

The committee is running over the allotted hour of time before heading into party caucus. Senator Blake Curd is chair of the subcommittee.

“And having had some discussion with Leader Sutton about the subject and his satisfaction with the training, I chose not to calendar any additional meetings for the subcommittee at this point. I think the issue is well handled within our current rule book. I think it’s a subject best left to the future legislative body to consider with Joint Rules should they deem necessary and that’s my update.”

However, Senator Sutton says he doesn’t have a recollection of that conversation.

“I just want to make sure we have the rules in place so that if something happens that we’re able to respond to it and that people feel comfortable reporting when these types of things happen," Sutton says.

Sutton says he wanted the committee to take a closer look at who legislators can bring a concern to, besides leadership in their own chamber.

Other legislative leaders say the subcommittee likely didn’t meet due to the vast number of bills lawmakers considered this year.