- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Lawmakers and others fighting child sexual abuse in South Dakota ended an emotional week on Friday with some help from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who promised funding to study the issue again this year.

A bill to continue the task force’s work in 2015 faced an unexpected 10-2 defeat in the House State Affairs committee this week, which surprised supporters because the plan had passed through the state Senate without any dissent. The defeat spurred outrage among members of the Jolene’s Law Task Force.

But Republican Rep. Roger Solum said shortly before the vote that there are funding limitations and said that he would hate to commit to the study when other issues may need to be examined.

Daugaard and members of the panel said on Friday that they would use grant funding to continue the group’s work under the executive branch.

“In my estimation, this work is too important,” Daugaard said. “I’ve heard that from many in the past couple of days who urged that it continue.”

The task force is named after Jolene Loetscher, of Sioux Falls, who was a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager and has talked publicly about her story.

“I’m so relieved that people cared and that they were able to have their voice heard,” Loetscher said. “There are a lot of people that have suffered that pain that I have, and they want to be sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

Republican Sen. Deb Soholt, who chairs the Jolene’s Law Task Force, said the group could spend up to about $21,000 to continue its work. Much of that would come from a federal grant, the administration said.

Lawmakers are also considering a companion proposal that came from the task force’s recommendations for this legislative session. The House State Affairs committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to pass the measure, which would require that a mandatory reporter - such as a teacher or school counselor - who first hears a child’s account of abuse must be available to answer questions when the account is passed on to authorities.

Soholt has said that’s to make sure the account doesn’t become jumbled as it passes through multiple people on its way to authorities.

Members of the task force were happy that measure had passed, but were disheartened by the task force’s defeat. Loetscher alleged politics had something to do with the derailed plan and praised Soholt for working to “make sure that this work was not killed off by what I would consider the ignorance and the politics of 10 other people.”

House Majority Leader Brian Gosch, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee, said that there’s a procedure in place for studies over the summer to go through and said it could have continued that way.

Loetscher said the task force wants to continue working on a broader public awareness campaign in part about the signs of abuse and to improve how K-12 students, volunteers, teachers and parents are educated about abuse, among other initiatives.

“Relief is the name of the day, and the work goes on,” Loetscher said. “It’s just the beginning.”

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