The state House of Representatives decided Monday against adding clergy members to South Dakota’s list of professions required to report child abuse.
Needing 36 ayes to move forward to the Senate, HB 1230 instead failed 33-34.
Representative Erin Healy, a Sioux Falls Democrat, tried to revive it. But House members voted 39-28 against her reconsideration motion.
Representative Randy Gross, an Elkton Republican, spoke against the bill, saying it didn’t reach far enough into the world’s many religions.
“My philosophy is, let’s do it right or not at all,” Gross said.
Representative Scyller Borglum, a Rapid City Republican who holds a master’s degree in divinity studies, said the many professions already on the mandatory-reporters list prove its necessity.
“If we didn’t need this kind of law, we wouldn’t have it in the first place,” Borglum said. She added, “This is what we need to protect our children.”
Representative Kaleb Weis, an Aberdeen Republican, said adding clergy would interfere with freedom of religion guaranteed in the federal Bill of Rights.
“Now the state is telling the church how to operate and what to do,” Weis said.
Representative Chris Johnson, a Rapid City Republican, agreed. “If this is not the camel’s nose under the tent, I don’t know what is,” Johnson said.
Representative Kelly Sullivan, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said South Dakota is one of eight states that doesn’t have clergy on its mandatory-reporting list.
“This is not about spanking our kids. This is about protecting our children,” Sullivan said.
Healy, the bill’s prime sponsor, amended the bill so church employees wouldn’t become mandatory reporters too.
She said the issue wasn’t religious freedom but about freeing clergy “from having to make an incredibly difficult decision.”
“This is a vote for the children,” Healy said.