- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - To the surprise of lawmakers and others fighting child sexual abuse in South Dakota, a House committee on Wednesday defeated a plan to authorize more time to study how to address the issue.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-2 to kill a proposal to allow the Jolene’s Law Task Force, which was created by the Legislature in 2014, to add another member and continue its work this year.

The bill had passed through the state Senate without any dissent. The task force was named after Jolene Loetscher, of Sioux Falls, who was a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager and has talked publicly about her story.

Loetscher bowed her head and prayed from the audience as the committee voted, and the resulting outcome brought her to tears.

“I’m disappointed and disheartened that we have legislators that don’t believe that protecting our children against child sexual abuse is … a priority in this state,” Loetscher said after the vote. “We were formulating things that were going to change lives and save lives, and now we decide to play politics with children, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Loetscher said the task force wanted to continue working to strengthen mandatory reporting, improve how K-12 students and parents are educated about abuse and to focus on a broader public awareness campaign, among other initiatives.

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

Republican Sen. Deb Soholt, the bill’s main sponsor, said after the hearing that the committee’s vote against re-authorizing the study took her by surprise and that she’s “disappointed on behalf of the children.”

The committee did vote unanimously to pass a companion measure that 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.

“I’m proud we did get a change into mandatory reporting … but there’s so much more we need to do.” Loetscher said.



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