Sen. Brent Hoffman, R-Hartford, speaks on the state Senate floor on Jan. 18, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)
A revived and “fine tuned” bill to standardize minimum school safety practices in South Dakota – without requiring armed guards – failed to pass the state Senate on Wednesday in Pierre.
The bill would have required schools to post information about the statewide anonymous school safety tip line, as well as lock main entrances or have a staff member monitor unlocked doors.
The bill failed by two votes, despite passing unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee earlier in the week. One Senate seat is vacant this session after former Sen. Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City, resigned in 2023, and Sen. Michael Diedrich, R-Rapid City, is currently on leave due to health reasons. Two other senators were excused and didn’t vote on the bill.
Opponents argued that the legislation tried to make every school fit into the same mold and that it should be handled at a local level.
“I believe every single school district board member has school safety in mind,” said Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, on the Senate floor. “If you want to make sure the doors in your school district are locked, go to your school board and make this argument there. This isn’t an argument for Pierre, South Dakota; it’s an argument for your local district back at home.”
Proponents called the bill common sense and a standard public safety measure, similar to school fire safety standards in South Dakota.
“School safety is inherently inconvenient,” said prime sponsor Sen. Brent Hoffman, R-Hartford, in rebuttal.
The original school safety bill failed in committee during the first week of the 99th legislative session due to concerns about staffing, costs and local control. That bill included a requirement for schools to have either school resource officers supplied by local law enforcement agencies or sentinels, who are trained and armed employees without police credentials.
Hoffman said he doesn’t have plans to revive the bill this session or introduce it again next year. He added that he hopes the Legislature doesn’t wait until there is a school shooting in South Dakota to implement changes.
“If and when that happens, I expect we’ll act,” Hoffman said, “but it’s very difficult to be proactive.”
Lawmakers debated a bill in 2016 in response to a 2015 shooting at Harrisburg High School. The bill would have required all accredited schools in the state develop safety plans and conduct safety drills, but it failed.
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