Between the Lines: New law being ignored – so far

We’ve all read them.

Dumb laws that either are still on the books or have been repealed because they don’t make sense. They’re good for humorous filler material in newspapers, and they give Jay Leno something to joke about.

For example, in North Carolina, “it is illegal to hold more than two sessions of bingo per week, and those sessions may not exceed 5 hours each session.”  In Nebraska, “It is not legal for a tavern owner to serve beer unless a nice kettle of soup is also brewing.”

David Lias

David Lias

July has arrived. Along with celebrating our independence, the arrival of this month is a time to take stock of all the new laws passed by the South Dakota Legislature earlier this year. Most of them took effect July 1.

Except for HB1087, which allows local school boards in South Dakota to arm public school teachers, should they wish, all in the name of keeping kids safe. This law took effect last March.

South Dakotans likely may one day look at this measure as something that should be tossed into the “dumb law” file.

This bill caused quite a stir in Pierre last January, with supporters claiming it was suddenly needed here in South Dakota after the Sandy Hook shootings last December. Opponents (including me) argued that there are much better ways to improve school safety than arming teachers.

The proponents won. Sort of. The bill passed and was signed into law by the governor. South Dakota became one of seven states to enact laws permitting teachers or administrators to carry guns in schools. Those laws took effect last week here in Kansas, and in Tennessee, so those two states along with South Dakota have school sentinel measures in place.

I don’t know what’s happening in Kansas and Tennessee, but there’s been no mad rush by public school districts in South Dakota to shop for guns and ammo along with computers and textbooks for the upcoming school year.

Not a single school district in South Dakota has taken advantage of HB1087. That may not mean much – West River school district representatives, noting that schools in the more sparsely populated areas of our state are flung far and wide, and in some cases are far from local law enforcement, seemed particularly gung-ho about seeing this bill passed.

We suspect, however, that this new law, while giving many the feel-good illusion of school security, will likely not see the light of day over time. We predict that it will be scarcely, if ever, put into effect by public school boards in our state.

One factor that may discourage school districts is the potential for increased insurance costs. Or, perhaps, difficulty in securing the desired insurance coverage. According to a recent New York Times report, EMC Insurance Companies, the liability insurance provider for about 90 percent of Kansas school districts, has sent a letter to its agents saying that schools permitting employees to carry concealed handguns would be declined coverage.

Firearm training rules for teachers in South Dakota have not yet been approved, delaying serious talks between districts and their underwriters. “Because it’s not something the schools are considering, the issue really hasn’t become full blown yet,” said Wade Pogany, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “I think it will eventually.”

The Vermillion School Board briefly discussed this legislation months ago, while it was being bantered about it Pierre. They weren’t exactly enthusiastic about this measure, as I recall, but withheld any strong criticism of the law while more or less stating they didn’t really feel a need for implementing it here.

The board was way ahead of state lawmakers immediately after Sandy Hook. It took steps to review and improve the safety of our school buildings in Vermillion. Interior locks have been added to classroom doors. The front doors at the two elementary schools and the middle school have been outfitted with cameras and a locking system.

Also adding to the security of schools in Vermillion is the presence of a sheriff’s deputy who serves as the school district’s resource officer.

The Vermillion School District used good judgment, and, some may even say, common sense in addressing safety issues after Sandy Hook. My hope is a similar wave of intelligent policy making will waft through the halls of the state Capitol building next legislative session.

Lawmakers concerned with school safety would do a much better job serving their constituents by passing legislation that would help all school districts implement building security improvements.

Nearly all school districts, I bet, would take advantage of such assistance, while avoiding the “help,” controversy, and added insurance costs the Legislature provided with the school sentinel law.

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