School sentinels bill passes committee 5-4

A proposal to let schools arm volunteer “sentinels” to protect against threats is on its way to the South Dakota Senate.

The school sentinels bill, House Bill 1087, passed a key Senate committee 5-4 Friday, and needs only approval from the Senate to head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.

Under the proposal, school boards could vote to arm sentinels provided local law enforcement approved and the sentinels underwent training with the state.

Rural schools, located far from local law enforcement and without police resource officers, want the proposal’s flexibility, advocates said.

“If we think we’re immune in South Dakota from school violence, we should probably think again,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. “Our local school officials and local school boards need to be making a decision about the security of their schools.”

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, and other supporters emphasized the local control.

“For the schools that do not want ever to have anybody armed… they should want this bill,” Craig said. “It is this bill that guarantees that they make the decision to never have anyone armed.”

But what Sen. Larry Lucas called “the (key) issue of the 2013 legislative session” has plenty of opponents. Most major school groups testified in opposition, saying the sentinels program was risky and unwanted.

Jeff Marlette, a general in the South Dakota National Guard and the superintendent of the New Underwood School District, lamented that South Dakotans would now ask if “our state has gotten so bad and so dangerous and so unsafe that we must now attend school in an armed fortress.”

Lobbyists for the state’s school boards and school administrators proposed an alternative, to set up a task force studying school security. If that task force recommended school sentinels, they said, they could support it, but saw the current proposal as too rushed.

“This amendment would give you another option to talk about school safety,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “Let’s put a task force together that’s made up of these stakeholders and bring recommendations so school boards could have options to look at.”

But the committee rejected that amendment, with members questioning whether such a task force would produce new mandates and objecting to the last-minute nature of the proposal.

The Senate committee did make several changes to the proposal, notably removing a section added in the House that kept decisions about the sentinels program secret.

Tieszen, the prime sponsor of the bill, endorsed that change.

“This must be a publicly made decision,” Tieszen said.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, supports keeping the decision private. He said it would keep would-be attackers in the dark about which schools were and were not defended, and thus provide more protection to everyone.

Once a district has adopted a sentinels program, decisions about it — such as which people were armed — could be made behind closed doors.

Another change might be coming in the full Senate. Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he’s interested in specifying that voters can refer a decision to create a sentinels program to a public election.

Senate passage isn’t assured, with many lawmakers skeptical. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, suggested the sentinels bill wasn’t necessary because volunteers could be deputized by their local sheriff to defend the school.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said he likes the concept but has too many unanswered questions.

“If we’re going to do something like this, I need to feel more than reasonably confident that we’ve covered all our bases,” Brown said.

But supporters said the sentinels program is both needed and well-thought-out.

“I don’t think anyone has promoted this as the ultimate solution to the problem we face,” said Rhoden. “But it is a step.”

Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, said it was a good proposal that keeps decisions with local government.

“What I like about this bill is its permissive nature,” Lederman said. “This bill will maximize local control.”

Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, lambasted schools for opposing the local option.

“Do you just want the softballs? Do you just want the easy decisions?” he asked school representatives. “When it gets tough should it come back to the Legislature? Make up your mind.”

The Senate must take action on the sentinels bill by March 5, though it has yet to be scheduled for debate. Because the Senate has amended the version passed by the House earlier this month, the House would then get another vote, to either approve the Senate version or try to negotiate a compromise.

Craig said House members will likely be divided on whether removing the secrecy provision is a good move.

If the Legislature approves the sentinels bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who likes the concept and is studying the proposal’s specific details.

Sen. Craig Tieszen (left) confers with Reps. Scott Craig and Steve Hickey before the hearing on the school sentinels bill, of which all three are sponsors.

Sen. Craig Tieszen (left) confers with Reps. Scott Craig and Steve Hickey before the hearing on the school sentinels bill, of which all three are sponsors.

One-cent bets bill passes Legislature, heads to governor

The cost of bets in South Dakota video lottery machines may be about to go down, though lawmakers are divided about whether the real cost to gamblers will go up.

The South Dakota House on Thursday approved a new one-cent bet denominations for video lottery machines. With the Senate’s early approval, the proposal now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for a signature or veto.

Gambling industry officials supported the bill, saying it would save them money because new games are produced with one-cent bets. Changing the programming to make the minimum bet five cents costs them time and money.

But many representatives voted against the proposal, saying it would make it easier for people to lose their money on video lottery.

“If I were designing these machines, I would find a way to make them more addictive, more fun and more likely to have you enjoy losing money,” said Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, predicting the one-cent bets would accomplish just that.

Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, said the effect of the bill would be that “instead of making granny take five hours to spend her Social Security check, it’ll take her 15.”

While supporters touted the roughly $2 billion video lottery has generated for South Dakota since being instituted, some opponents said that was precisely the problem. Because that revenue came from gambler losses, Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, said he had to vote no.

“My conscience forbids me from gaining something, especially monetarily, from something designed for them to lose,” Craig said.

Supporters accused these critics of missing the point, and urged them to vote on the bill and not on the bigger issue of video lottery.

“What we’re trying to do here is keep the games fresh and entertaining,” said Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, and a former member of the state Lottery Commission.

The bill wouldn’t make things worse for gambling addicts, said Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre.

“If this bill doesn’t pass today, people will still be losing their paychecks in these machines,” he said.

Also included in the bill, Senate Bill 52, is some legislative cleanup abolishing outdated language. 

After the debate, 39 representatives voted in favor of the one-cent bets, and 28 voted no. That’s over the simple majority the bill needed, sending it to Daugaard. The governor’s office has supported the bill as it has worked its way through the Legislature.

School sentinels bill passes House 42-27 (updated)

South Dakota is halfway to allowing schools to arm volunteer defenders after the state House approved a controversial bill Tuesday.

The “school sentinels” bill, House Bill 1087, will let school districts choose to arm employees or other volunteers against attacks. Under compromises hashed out earlier in a legislative committee, local law enforcement has to sign off on the plan, and any sentinels have to undergo more than 40 hours of training.

After an hour of fierce debate, the South Dakota House passed HB 1087 42-27. Eleven Republicans joined almost all Democrats in voting against the measure, while most Republicans and one Democrat voted yes.

The big selling point for most supporters was the local control in the bill.

“For the schools that do not want, ever, to have somebody armed… this gives them the power to decide to never have an armed presence, or to have an armed presence,” said Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, the bill’s primary sponsor. “It is up to them.”

Craig called the bill a “vote of confidence in school boards.”

Other speakers emphasized the perceived security benefits of this bill. Even if very few schools arm teachers under this measure, supporters said, the ambiguity that perhaps a school might have an armed volunteer would deter shooters.

“The bad guys will have no knowledge of any school that has taken advantage of being able to have a sentinel,” said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka. “That alone will stop many of the people who want to create carnage from doing so.”

That ambiguity would exist in part because of a provision inserted in the bill in committee that requires discussions of the school sentinel program by school boards take place in private. An attempt Tuesday by Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, to broaden that secrecy provision was overwhelmingly defeated Tuesday.

Critics of the bill disagreed vehemently. A series of Democrats said the bill was flawed and posed more dangers than it solved.

“The primary issue here is not local control, it’s guns in schools in the hands of lightly trained, non-law enforcement officials,” said Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion.

Rep. Scott Parsley, D-Madison, said the bill would send the wrong message to children.

“This is a step in the wrong direction to show our kids that the way we’re going to solve all our problems is to arm ourselves,” he said.

Critics cited the opposition to the bill from the state’s associations of teachers, school boards and school administrators. Supporters said minorities of those groups, principally smaller school districts around the state, wanted the ability to arm sentinels.

Only one out of a string of proposed amendments to HB 1087 passed. Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, changed language giving local sheriffs veto power over the adoption of sentinels to the more general local “law enforcement official.” That means in larger cities, police chiefs will make the decision, instead of the sheriff, who will retain control in rural areas and many smaller cities.

Democrats proposed several changes, such as adding a $250,000 appropriation or an emergency clause to the bill, that would have had the effect of requiring more votes to pass the bill. All were defeated on largely party-line votes.

Now the school sentinels bill moves to the state Senate, where its future is unknown. Some senators, such as Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, have expressed doubts about the bill, but others are public supporters.

It has yet to be assigned to a Senate committee or scheduled for its first hearing.

If it passes its committee and the full Senate, the bill will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk for a signature or veto. Daugaard has not stated his preference on the bill, but has said he will speak with school officials and law enforcement when making up his mind.

If Daugaard were to veto the bill, the House would face an uphill vote to override it. Only 42 lawmakers supported the bill Tuesday, fewer than the 47 votes needed to pass a bill over a veto.

(This post has been updated with an expanded version of the story.)

School sentinels and public knowledge?

South Dakota’s proposed school sentinels bill, brought by Rep. Scott Craig and Sen. Craig Tieszen (and incorporating previous ideas by Reps. Betty Olson and Steve Hickey) would let school districts choose to arm employees in “defense of the school.”

(It would not limit schools to arming one person, as a headline error in the Argus Leader mistakenly claimed.)

If a school did choose to arm people, they’d be required to tell law enforcement who those people were. But they wouldn’t be required to announce to the public, or to parents or children, which employees were armed.

Should they have to? Rep. Betty Olson’s original bill to let all school employees carry concealed weapons was based on the logic that armed employees are a better defense against attacks if attackers don’t know who’s armed. On the other hand, a lot of parents might like to know if their grade school child’s math teacher is packing heat.

Another important question: is the decision about arming a “school sentinel” one that can be made in executive session — preventing the public from knowing? Or do the names have to be mentioned in public, where citizens and the press could learn about them even if the district didn’t announce and publicize them?

Legislators remember their own: The South Dakota Legislature just completed a memorial service for eight former members who died in 2012. It was relatively brief, about 25 minutes, and includes several prayers, several songs performed by the Riggs High School choir, and a memorial joint resolution.
The former lawmakers who died in the past year included U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor (who served in the state Senate from 1957-1968), and two with children or grandchildren currently serving: Rep. Roger Solum’s father Burdette Solum (House 1991-1992, 1998-2004), and Sen. Jason Frerichs’ grandfather Bert Ellingson (House 1969-1980).
The others remembered were Leonard Andera (Senate 1985-1990), Eddie Clay (House 1967-1974), Rudy Henderson (Senate 1965-1966, 1969-1970), Maurice LaRue (House 2003-2004), and George Shanard (Senate 1975-1992).
Former lawmaker Gil Koetzle, who committed suicide last week, was not remembered today, because he died this year and the service was for lawmakers who died in 2012.
Two of the four ordained ministers in the Legislature read prayers: Rep. Steve Hickey and Rep. Scott Craig. (The other two, Rep. Karen Soli and Rep. Bill Van Gerpen, did not participate.)
Sen. Mike Vehle, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint-Select Committee On Memorials, praised the deceased lawmakers as selfless public servants.
"They all decided to put their roles and their occupations and their families on hold for nearly three months each year to travel to Pierre," Vehle said.
Why did they serve? “We all know they didn’t do it for the money,” he said to laughs. Instead, he said, they “loved this state” and “wanted to make a difference.”
Above: State Rep. Roger Solum places a rose in remembrance of his father, former state representative Burdette Solum, who died last year.

Legislators remember their own: The South Dakota Legislature just completed a memorial service for eight former members who died in 2012. It was relatively brief, about 25 minutes, and includes several prayers, several songs performed by the Riggs High School choir, and a memorial joint resolution.

The former lawmakers who died in the past year included U.S. Senator Jim Abdnor (who served in the state Senate from 1957-1968), and two with children or grandchildren currently serving: Rep. Roger Solum’s father Burdette Solum (House 1991-1992, 1998-2004), and Sen. Jason Frerichs’ grandfather Bert Ellingson (House 1969-1980).

The others remembered were Leonard Andera (Senate 1985-1990), Eddie Clay (House 1967-1974), Rudy Henderson (Senate 1965-1966, 1969-1970), Maurice LaRue (House 2003-2004), and George Shanard (Senate 1975-1992).

Former lawmaker Gil Koetzle, who committed suicide last week, was not remembered today, because he died this year and the service was for lawmakers who died in 2012.

Two of the four ordained ministers in the Legislature read prayers: Rep. Steve Hickey and Rep. Scott Craig. (The other two, Rep. Karen Soli and Rep. Bill Van Gerpen, did not participate.)

Sen. Mike Vehle, co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint-Select Committee On Memorials, praised the deceased lawmakers as selfless public servants.

"They all decided to put their roles and their occupations and their families on hold for nearly three months each year to travel to Pierre," Vehle said.

Why did they serve? “We all know they didn’t do it for the money,” he said to laughs. Instead, he said, they “loved this state” and “wanted to make a difference.”

Above: State Rep. Roger Solum places a rose in remembrance of his father, former state representative Burdette Solum, who died last year.

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