PIERRE — The state House of Representatives voted 40-19 Monday afternoon to give final passage to creating a school sentinels program in South Dakota.
The legislation goes next to Gov. Dennis Daugaard. It would allow school boards to place armed sentinels in their buildings as a safety measure if they chose.
The sentinels would have to receive training through the state’s law enforcement officers program before they could be armed in a school.
“This remains entirely up to the locals,” said Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark.
The House had previously approved the plan, but the Senate added requirements that school boards act in public session and that decisions to adopt sentinels programs can be referred to public vote.
Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, said the Senate amendments made the plan more appealing and strengthened it.
“It is now a better bill and I ask you to support it again,” Craig said.
Some school districts already use school resource officers who can be armed while at the schools.
Rep. Scott Parsley asked for the sentinels bill to be sent instead to a House-Senate conference committee.
“This bill has had a lot of emotion tied to it,” Parsley, D-Madison, said.
Parsley said his hope is that the bill would have wound up in a summer study. He said there are other possible answers in addition to arming sentinels.
But House Republican leader David Lust of Rapid City said a conference committee’s true purpose is to settle differences between the two chambers, rather than to kill it.
“I think you’ve had ample time to view the amendments,” Lust said.
House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton said school board members back home “have a million questions” about how it would work.
Hunhoff said it could be one of the most important summer studies undertaken by the Legislature in a long time.
Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, urged final passage of the bill. Sly said the education community is already involved in a conversation about school safety but school sentinels require legislative authority.
“A lot of other things for public safety do not need legislative action,” Sly said.
Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, said nothing in the legislation mandates any action by any school districts. She said it’s totally voluntary.
Parsley countered that school boards, superintendents and education organizations oppose the bill and want a summer study instead. He said once again the Legislature is saying it knows more than school officials about how to run their schools.
Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Gregory, said school boards don’t need the legislation because they already can hire school resource officers.