The University of South Dakota Student Government Association will support a resolution in favor of a program allowing people over the age of 18 who received a Class 1 or Class 2 misdemeanor in Clay County to forgo conviction by completing a series of activities.
Senators of SGA voted 18 to 5 Jan. 28 on Senate Resolution #11, which supports the proposed diversion program in Clay County.
“I’m very excited about the passage of this bill,” Senator Rachelle Norberg said. “I think it’s evident students are very much in favor of the bill because of the feedback we’ve received and not hearing negative, but hearing the positive.”
Norberg, who serves as chair of the State and Local committee, first presented the resolution to SGA Jan. 21. SGA voted the resolution into the committee to allow senators time to gather student input.
“This was a way for us to get more discussion about it and make a decision together to see if this is something we want to go forward with and support,” Norberg said.
The proposed diversion is to be presented to Clay County State’s Attorney Teddi Gertsma before March 10, Norberg said.
The program would not require changes to the law, but it would require a change in the way the Clay County State’s Attorney does business.
As the diversion program currently stands, Gertsma would have the discretion to recommend the diversion program to offenders in lieu of conviction.
Junior Sam Young said he is in support of the program.
“It sounds like a good idea, because they give them a second chance,” Young said. “They might have made a mistake and didn’t realize until after the fact.”
If granted eligibility to complete the diversion program, minors would need to complete a set of criteria, which would include a 24/7-sobriety program.
Developed by the coalition of SGA representatives, Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe and Vermillion Chief of Police Matt Betzen, the proposed diversion program comes as an alternative to the Good Samaritan Alcohol Policy (GSAP), which has been supported by representatives of SGA in conjunction with the South Dakota Student Federation.
Presented to the South Dakota Legislature in 2011, 2012 and 2013, GSAP has failed to become law at each of its three appearances.
According to Betzen, eligibility for the diversion program will only be considered to those who meet outlined criterion.
“It’s an opportunity for minors committing a first-time minor offense to do a series of activities to make up for violating the law, and really the real focus is on rehabilitating potential behaviors so that they don’t continue to cause that problem or move in that direction,” Betzen said.
The diversion program has been in the works for about a month Norberg said.
Aside from SGA, Howe and Betzen, Caleb Fink, a South Dakota State University Senator for Student Government, has been involved in the planning process.
Sophomore Samantha Drapeaux can see how the bill might work for some people.
“It might depend on the situation,” Drapeaux said. “Some people might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but others might take it as a freebie and it wouldn’t stop them.”
Depending on how the diversion program plays out in Clay County, Norberg said, Brookings County could implement a similar program in the future. If all goes according to plan, Norberg said the diversion program could become active late this spring or early next fall.
Betzen said the diversion program is a way to rehabilitate people in ways the current system might be lacking in.
“Most of us cross that line (of underage drinking) before we’re supposed to,” Betzen said. “This would be an opportunity where you could learn those lessons that I’m not sure we’re teaching with simply a fine or even jail time.”
Follow reporter Trent Opstedahl on Twitter @TrentOp