- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Former South Carolina Rep. Edward Southard must pay $2,000 for harassing several women at the Statehouse, according to an agreement signed Wednesday.

The House Ethics Committee unanimously found the 69-year-old married Republican from Moncks Corner violated the chamber’s no harassment policy. It publicly reprimanded Southard and required he pay the fine within 30 days.

Ethics Chairman Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, said the committee imposed the harshest fine it could for the April complaint.

Southard, first elected to the House in 2010, resigned his Berkeley County seat April 27 amid the then-confidential investigation, saying he wanted to protect his family and honor. But he remained on the ballot - unopposed - to potentially regain his seat in November.

After Southard told the media he should have fought the allegations, the committee found probable cause he violated the policy, making the allegations public and allowing for a public hearing.

Redacted documents released after the May 17 vote showed two House pages and a lobbyist complained this year that Southard’s comments, hugs and touching on places like their knee or arm made them uncomfortable.

As part of the settlement, Southard agreed to remove his name from the ballot.

“I wish to withdraw my nomination,” he wrote in a letter, dated June 8, to the state Republican Party. “Remaining on the ballot would substantially alter my duties and responsibilities to my family.”

The State Election Commission will hold a hearing Friday to decide whether Southard withdrew for a “legitimate nonpolitical reason,” as defined by law. If it does, the agency will reopen the race. Candidates would be able to file between June 28 and July 5, with special primaries held July 19.

If the commission votes no on Friday, then none of the parties will have a candidate on November’s ballot. The only way to become a candidate then would be through the petition process.

Southard did not immediately return a cellphone message Wednesday from The Associated Press.

The agreement states Southard agreed to the terms to end the matter but admits no guilt.

House Speaker Jay Lucas warned Southard in February not to “hug, touch or otherwise encroach upon the personal space of any House staff, employee or member” after the initial complaint by a House page.

Lucas told Southard he violated policy against unwelcome and intentional physical contact, regardless of his intentions.

“Hereafter if I learn of a single instance regarding your behavior or actions, I will take all appropriate corrective steps necessary,” Lucas said in a letter he required Southard to sign.

But in March, another page complained. A lobbyist complained in April after learning of the investigation.

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