- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Nov. 29

The Unintended Impact Of A Law

Even the best intentions can be laced with land mines.

That sentiment could apply to South Dakota’s newly minted Amendment S, which was approved by the state’s voters earlier this month. For those who can’t quite pick out this snowflake from the blizzard of ballot measures we faced three weeks ago, this measure was popularly known as “Marsy’s Law,” which puts into the state constitution certain new rights for the victims of crimes.

However, the measure could also forbid the public from certain information which, until now, it has had the right to know.

The problem resides in a section of the law that guarantees “. the right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information about the victim, and to be notified of any request for such information or records .”

That sounds reasonable enough, but the right to have certain information remain private may mean that law enforcement could be forbidden to release information about traffic accidents, for instance. This is a prospect with which state and local law enforcement are now grappling, and no one has a clear answer. On Tuesday, the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued a press release stating that detailed information regarding accidents will no longer be issued. “DPS officials say a review of the new amendment by state government attorneys indicates that records of state reportable crashes can no longer be made available,” the release stated. “The Office of Highway Safety’s Accident Records Reporting website has been suspended.”

But the new law may not stop there.

The Mitchell Daily Republic reported that, in the wake of a bank robbery, for example, the name of the bank could be withheld from the public.

Also, if a retail store is hit by shoplifters, that store could have the same rights and protections that a rape victim would have in concealing information, according to a story in the Pierre Capital Journal.

Or, if a crime occurs somewhere in your neighborhood, you may not learn about it from law enforcement, which may be forbidden to disclose that information to the public. You would be left in the dark about what may be lurking near your own front door.

Suddenly, the transparency we all want and need in our governmental system may vanish in favor of a more opaque structure - a legal obstruction that has been democratically inserted into the state’s constitution. It was a well-intended addition, but it is a problem all the same, and we doubt this was the true intent of the law or the voters.

While concerns were expressed before the election about the law’s bureaucratic impact on local governmental and legal agencies - most agree it will require more time and manpower, and thus tap resources, which is why many state officials opposed the measure - the issue of closed records and withheld information was rarely mentioned.

But, upon closer inspection, here it is.

The matter is still being scrutinized and, hopefully, some inroads around this lack of essential transparency can be found.

If not, the people of this state will be victims, too, as their access to what should be open information will be lost. And that isn’t good or healthy for anyone.


Rapid City Journal, Dec. 1

Sexual-violence project good for district

The Rapid City School District’s recent decision to participate in a $1.8 million sexual-violence prevention initiative gives our community the chance to be at the forefront of an effort to combat one of society’s most pressing problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is footing the bill for the project that is being administered by University of New Hampshire researchers. Middle and high school students who agree to participate will be interviewed every six months for three years starting next spring. Researchers say the information and insights gleaned from the interviews will lead to a plan to help communities nationwide reduce sexual violence and promote “positive youth development.”

Sexual violence among teenagers is a public health issue, according to the CDC. A national study conducted in 2012 said that an estimated 10 million girls and 791,000 boys were raped or were victims of an attempted rape. Sexual violence includes physical, psychological and emotional violence that can occur on the school grounds, on social media platforms or while teenagers are dating or after a relationship ends.

The consequences can be devastating and last a lifetime in the form of alcohol and drug abuse, low self-esteem, sexual promiscuity and anti-social behavior. In some cases, it has led teenagers to take their own lives.

For parents and students who might be concerned about participating in the project, they will have the option of opting out of it. Those students who participate will be asked about sexual violence and abuse and risky behavior while discussing the importance of positive youth development and civic engagement.

While this topic is one that most people would prefer to push aside, it doesn’t change the reality that too many of our youth are victims of sexual assault or harassment. They also are unlikely to have the tools to cope with it or know where to turn once they are victimized, which all too often is at the hands of someone they know and perhaps even trust.

It also is happening in Rapid City whether we want to acknowledge it or not. As school board member Matt Stephens said, “This discussion needs to happen.”

This project also opens the door for parents to discuss the issue of sexual violence and what constitutes appropriate behavior with teenagers who will be dating, going to dances and attending parties while in high school.

Without information, proper support and the appropriate tools to protect oneself, teenagers could become unsuspecting victims of a sex crime and have no idea how to respond or where to turn.

The school board deserves credit for having the courage to approve the program. It will give our youth a better chance to protect themselves while being part of a plan that could help others, as well, and that’s good for everyone.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Nov. 24

Our view: Districts need to discuss mandating seat belt use on buses

In wake of a tragic crash earlier this week in Tennessee, school boards around the nation need to consider whether it’s time to mandate seat belts for students riding on buses.

We hope the majority of school boards at least discuss what happened Monday afternoon in Chattanooga, where a kindergartner, a first-grader and three fourth-graders died in the crash. There were 37 students on the bus. Five died and 12 were hospitalized.

Six states require seat belts on school buses and South Dakota isn’t among them. The six states - Florida, California, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas - have varying regulations within the law. But the common theme is that students must wear seat belts while riding on the public school bus.

It’s safe to say many of the students who died or suffered injuries earlier this week would not have sustained such a harsh fate had they been wearing seat belts. And that’s why we’re calling for South Dakota school districts to consider changing their policy.

Nationwide, there were 1,222 fatal motor vehicle crashes classified as school-transportation-related between 2003 and 2012, according to a report by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration. There was none in South Dakota.

And since 2003, there have been 1,353 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes across the country, which averages 135 fatalities per year.

It is refreshing knowing our state has been safe in recent years, but hundreds of busloads of students go to and from school every day. And a crash could happen at any time.

We realize the mandate would be hard to institute due to lack of funding and would be difficult to enforce on each student.

Many rural districts in our state struggle with funding, and mandating the use of seat belts would add another expense for many schools whose buses aren’t properly equipped. Though, some states with seat belt mandates have stipulations that it applies only to new buses, meaning each time a district buys a bus, seat belts should already be installed.

And while we understand there’s no way to enforce each student to buckle up even if there’s a mandate in place, the district would be doing its part to promote the safety of its bus-riding students.

Certainly we hope never to hear about tragedy like the one earlier this week in Tennessee. But we must learn from these incidents. That’s why a discussion on seat belt mandates is the first step to ensure the safety of our students.

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