NOTE TO READERS: This story has been updated to reflect additional information.
PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Legislature’s leadership group is getting stricter about who can use space on the the third and fourth floors of the South Dakota Capitol.
The move comes after an incident involving several state lawmakers who used room 414 on the Friday before House Republicans chose their caucus leaders November 19.
Staff afterward found chairs that had some type of oil on them in the shape of a cross.
In response, the Legislature’s Executive Board voted 10-0 Tuesday to formally adopt a tougher set of policies, including a statement that legislators “may not mark on or damage in any fashion the real or personal property of the Citizens’ Capitol.”
“We’re going to tighten up the use of these rooms,” Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, said. He is the board’s chair.
Representative Trish Ladner, a Hot Springs Republican, said “this is a really good opportunity” because 40% of the Legislature’s incoming members are new. She spoke from her own experience: “After two years here, I had never heard I couldn’t put a nail in the wall.”
Ladner added, “We know the integrity level of these two people. Their integrity is impeccable. I think their intent was good and the execution was very poor.”
The two lawmakers weren’t identified. Schoenbeck said he spoke to one of them. He said she was “mortified” and “really was embarrassed.” He said both legislators wrote checks to double-cover the $79.89 cost for the three hours that state Buildings and Grounds staff spent cleaning it up.
The two legislators weren’t identified during the 15-minute discussion. “We’re just passing through this place,” Schoenbeck said. He noted that a crucifix hangs in his Capitol office and he went through the necessary state channels to have someone pound the nail — “And the same is true for messing around with chairs.” The episode, he said, served as an educational experience.
The new policies lay out what will happen regarding reservation of meeting rooms during the nine months when the Legislature isn’t in session and give priority to legislative meetings.
Lawmakers want Legislative Research Council director Reed Holwegner to charge a refundable $500 deposit to non-legislators who aren’t personnel associated with a state government agency.
Holwegner said a legislator alerted him to the markings at the end of the November 19 House Republican caucus. Holwegner said they were “cross-like” images. That led him to contact Capitol security for a review of the previous day. Then he contacted the state Bureau of Administration on November 21 and asked for the chairs to be cleaned up.
Holwegner said the audience chairs showed no lasting damage but five committee chairs had slight discoloration. He recommended the entire set of 24 be replaced if the board decided to go that direction, but he didn’t think that would be necessary. “I don’t believe it would be a distraction to the members or the public using this room,” he said about the discolored five.
Under the new restrictions, non-legislators will be responsible for any damages beyond the $500 deposit, and legislators can be asked to reimburse for damages that occur when they have reserved a room and there are any non-routine cleaning costs or damages found afterward.
Legislators could face withholding a portion of their salaries if they refuse to pay or don’t pay the full amount.
The restrictions also call for a non-legislator to possible lose future privilege to use a room that was damaged, used irresponsibly or wasn’t used for the stated purpose. A legislator could lose the privilege for the remainder of the lawmaker’s term if the Executive Board determines the room was damaged or used irresponsibly or the purpose was misrepresented.