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Kansas House panel to warn new member over past behavior

Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP

A newly elected Kansas lawmaker accused of threatening two state officials and abusive behavior toward girls and young women before taking his seat will get a public warning about his past conduct rather than facing possible removal from office, a committee decided Friday.

A state House committee reviewing a complaint against state Rep. Aaron Coleman, of Kansas City, Kansas, said it will draft and send him a public letter of warning that will include expectations about his future conduct. The panel’s three Democrats preferred stronger action against Coleman, but its three Republicans were wary of disciplining him for actions occurring before he took office.

Some Democrats wanted to censure or expel the 20-year-old Coleman, but either action would take a two-thirds majority. The chamber’s Republican leaders were wary of overturning an election, and during Friday’s committee meeting, members of both parties said they didn’t want to base their decision on Coleman’s behavior as a minor.

The committee’s decision means a complaint filed against Coleman by 13 Democrats, including House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, of Wichita, will be dismissed. But committee members said the letter will act as a guide for Coleman, and if he does not abide by what it spells out, he could face another complaint.

Coleman was elected to the House as a Democrat but dropped affiliation with any party after Sawyer refused to give him committee assignments. He identifies as a progressive and socialist.

“Mr. Coleman’s going to be watched,” said committee Chair John Barker, an Abilene Republican.

A new allegation against Coleman became public Friday. Heather Sprague Scanlon, Sawyer’s former chief of staff, said in a written statement that Coleman called her during the summer after House Democrats had denounced Coleman on social media and launched into a “raging diatribe.” She said Coleman made threats to physically harm Sawyer.

When those statements were read to him, Coleman told the committee, “That is not accurate.”

But he later apologized to Sawyer and said he’s willing to apologize to Scanlon for his “inappropriate conduct.” He publicly asked for a Statehouse mentor and said he’s spoken to his attorney about counseling.


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