South Dakota lawmaker quits over sexual contact with interns

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2017 2:53 PM
South Dakota lawmaker quits over sexual contact with interns

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota legislator who admitted having sexual contact with two interns resigned on Monday, saying he regretted his actions during the past two legislative sessions.

Republican Rep. Mathew Wollmann, 26, said last week that both interns were over age 21 and that the contact during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions was consensual. But his colleagues voted to set up a committee to investigate his actions, and they were scheduled to meet Tuesday.

Wollmann announced his resignation in a letter first reported by the Mitchell Daily Republic newspaper. The former Marine didn't immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press, but the Legislative Research Council provided a copy of his letter.

The meeting on Wollmann's conduct is still planned, said Republican Rep. Timothy Johns, chairman of the House Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.

In South Dakota, legislative interns are college students, some 21 or older. Legislative rules don't explicitly ban sexual contact or relationships between lawmakers and interns, although they do prohibit sexual harassment and call on lawmakers to maintain "the highest of moral and ethical standards."

Wollmann, from the eastern South Dakota city of Madison, first won the seat in 2014. In the letter, Wollmann expressed his regret, writing that he hoped to return to the Legislature in the future.

"I have nothing but the greatest respect for those that I have grown so close to these past two years, and even in these early days of the 92nd legislative session," Wollmann wrote. "Those that read this should know that it is my wrongdoing that has put this institution in a sour light. Those responsible for me have displayed nothing but the highest honor for this establishment."

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, House Speaker Mark Mickelson and Minority Leader Spencer Hawley said in a statement that Wollmann decided "this was best for him, his fiancé, his family and the young ladies involved."

"Every legislator has an obligation to refrain from behavior unbecoming to the Legislature and inconsistent with maintaining the public's trust," the House leaders said.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement that he thinks Wollmann made the right decision. Daugaard said he will act quickly to name a replacement.

Wollmann's public admission came shortly after a legislative committee voted down a new rule to explicitly bar legislators from sexual contact with interns and pages. One lawmaker who spoke against the change said he felt the current rules were sufficient.

The House leaders said they will meet with lawmakers, interns and staff to discuss potential improvements that could be made to legislator and employee training and any updates to legislative rules. Hawley told the AP that he supports discussing new rules.

Wollmann is the second South Dakota lawmaker in roughly a decade to be investigated by lawmakers for alleged misconduct involving interns or pages. In 2007, the state Senate censured Democrat Dan Sutton after he was accused of fondling an 18-year-old page when they shared a motel room during the 2006 legislative session. Sutton denied the allegation and was re-elected.

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