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KATIE ZERR: Are Legislative leaders out of their ‘lanes?’

Just what kind of message is being sent to the females that work at the State Capital in Pierre, when the leaders of the Republican party try to dictate what is said about legislators and what women wear?
Each session the South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) sponsors an event in Pierre at which the group’s members have a press conference with the leaders of both houses of the legislature before having lunch with the area legislators.
The SDNA also has a First Amendment Committee (FAC), which is a group that researches and reviews legislation that deals with First Amendment issues and recommends how the SDNA should stand on those issues, as well as other duties. I am a member of that committee.
Several issues that have occurred in the legislature this session were discussed at length among this group.
The first was Speaker of the House of Representatives Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls indefinitely banned from the floor of the House the Executive Director of the South Dakota Municipal League lobbyist Yvonne Taylor.
Taylor authored a League newsletter column in which she was critical of some lawmakers. Haugaard objected to her reference of some lawmakers as the “wackies” who oppose government and any taxation, even when groups that would pay added taxes or fees want them.
Discussion in the First Amendment meetings on Wednesday night and Thursday morning ranged from outrage, to deep concern, to whether Taylor’s rights were violated. Our committee was in agreement it was not within Haugaard’s rights to issue such a ban.
Several years ago I questioned our District 23 representatives about the issue of lobbyists being allowed on the House floor and was schooled in the need for them to have access to law makers in that venue. Those who lobby must circulate bill sponsor sheets and explaining to legislators, who are part-time law makers, the bills they are being asked to sponsor. This activity occurs almost exclusively on the floors of the House and Senate in South Dakota.
U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange on Friday ruled Haugaard had violated Taylor’s civil rights and granted a temporary restraining order preventing Haugaard from barring her from that chamber’s floor.
Taylor released a statement saying the two were working on their issues and are moving forward.
Another topic that was the center of discussion of the committee was House Leader Lee Quam of Platte, issuing a dress code for legislators that targeted specific items of female legislators’ clothing.
During the press conference the Republican leaders danced around answering specific questions about the dress code. Since I had promised the SDNA moderator and other committee members that I would not lecture the leaders about this issue (yes, I do have a reputation of doing that), I did not press them for specific answers.
I did, however, ask other representatives about the issue and got the answers I wanted.
On Tuesday, one of the members of the committee came through with the exact edict from Rep. Quam and sent me a copy.
This is the exact wording of the House Republican Majority Caucus Guidelines and Expectations.
“Please respect the Legislature as an institution of the highest values. It is truly an honor to serve our state in this capacity. Show your respect by dressing appropriately in business attire. For men: A suit, or sport coat, button down shirt and tie. For women: Dress pants and outfits, if wearing a skirt or dress they can be no shorter than knees, no bare legs with skirts or dresses- please wear hose, all clothing to be modest with no cleavage showing. No jeans, shorts, t-shirts, or tank tops.”
These are not teenage girls whose clothing choices sometimes border on indecent to some of us older people, but professional adult women.
No short skirts, no bare legs and no cleavage showing?
It is obvious that Rep. Quam has never worn “hose” or this wouldn’t be an issue.
Yes, there are standards for both male and female legislators, but he is very specific about the females’ clothing.
These guidelines sound more like the school dress codes of the 1960s and 70s when I was in school.
My reaction? Who does this man think he is? What gives him the right to tell adult females they must wear hose and not show any cleavage?
Did he lecture the males on not lusting after the females who would be working near them?
Did he tell the males to stay in their lanes?
What these guidelines sound more like to me is the leader telling the female legislators that they need to stay in their place, don’t tempt the male legislators with their feminine wiles and that they are still second-class citizens on the floor of the House.
You can imagine the concern of other members of our FAC who have gotten to know me fairly well these past 18 years. This is why I agreed to let other members bring up the issue at the press conference.
I did voice my concerns to two of the representatives from our district.
There may be more females working in Pierre this year, but it doesn’t mean they are on equal footing as with the males.