S.D. Capitol gets post-9/11 security in January

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capitol building legislature

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem’s administration still has some details to work out before all visitors to the South Dakota Capitol start facing security screening at the north entrance in January.

The Legislature’s Executive Board received a briefing Tuesday from state Public Safety Secretary Craig Price and Colonel Rick Miller, commander of the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

Price told lawmakers the goal is to keep delays to a minimum and keep the process as simple as possible.

Proximity card-readers already bar the general public from entering the east, west and south doors.

Legislators and many state government employees who work in the Capitol have pass-cards that open those doors. Price said a new door will be built inside the Capitol’s north entrance they also can use.

“Eligibility for the key cards is at the discretion of agencies’ leadership,” Price said.

The state Bureau of Administration website has a page about the Capitol and a link with answers to questions about the new checkpoint.

Remodeling the room and installing the new door will cost about $60,000, according to Price, while equipment including the metal detector and the X-ray machine will be about $37,000.

The staffing plan calls for three employees from the current Highway Patrol budget at start-up.

“We don’t know the exact time of when we’ll have busy times,” Colonel Rick Miller said.

Accurate records of Capitol visitors haven’t been kept, so the first year will be a period of adjustment, Miller recently told the state Capitol Complex Restoration and Beautification Commission.

Security measures at the Capitol have increased in recent years, including plainclothes and uniformed agents, a bomb-sniffing dog, video cameras, an exterior wall and bollards to stop vehicles.

Currently visitors can come and go through the north entrance most days of the year. But that will change in January, with visitors required to walk through a metal detector while bags and packages will be passed through an X-ray machine.

Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, said tourists marveled there wasn’t a checkpoint. “It’s kind of a sad end to an era,” Haugaard said.

Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, said he could accept the change. “I don’t have the level of heartburn some people do, but I’ve certainly heard it,” he said.

Greenfield advised that 45 seconds to get through security would be better than 45 minutes. Miller said they would know more after a few weeks under the new system. Price said adjustments would be made.

Legislators will have 24-hour access.

Visitor hours outside legislative session will be Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

During legislative session, visitor hours Monday through Friday will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., unless the lawmakers officially work longer, while Saturday and Sunday will remain 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Miller said they’ll learn this year how to handle the 2020 Christmas-trees display, when the Capitol traditionally has been open daily until 10 p.m. from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through December 26.

Price said discussions are also under way about creating a different category for frequent visitors.

Signs will be posted outside the Capitol advising people about items they shouldn’t try to bring in. Those include:

Bladed devices with a blade of more than 2½ inches except for traditional and ceremonial knives including Native American knives;

Club‐like items and striking devices;

Destructive devices, explosives, or combustible chemical compounds and mixtures;

Disabling chemicals and other dangerous items; and

Illicit drugs.

However, people can bring concealed firearms into some parts of the Capitol as of July 1, 2019, but they must contact the Highway Patrol at least 24 hours in advance and submit them for screening.

Representative Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican, didn’t like having visitors go through the checkpoint. He asked what led to it.

“There’s no particular incident that triggered this,” Price replied.

Gosch responded, “I’ve always I guess seen this building as the people’s building, unfettered access.”

There are 11 school districts in Gosch’s legislative district. He said the new system would complicate visits for bus after bus of students who come to the Capitol during session.

Tourist groups and citizens on normal business will be screened too, as will any state employees or legislators who forget or misplace their pass-cards.

“It’s going to change patterns for all sorts of people,” Gosch said. He added, “It just feels again like we’re doing it for the sake of doing it.”

Representative Chris Johnson, a Rapid City Republican, asked whether the security that’s been added throughout the Capitol during legislative session would be affected.

“How this will impact that is yet to be determined,” Price said. In response to another suggestion, he said state law enforcement has had conversations with other security offices about ways to make screening less bothersome.

House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte expressed confidence in the new steps. “It would be a horrible situation if something did happen,” Qualm said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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