Good Samaritan Bill signed by Daugaard, becomes law
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Good Samaritan Bill signed by Daugaard, becomes law

After more than five years of discussion in Pierre, the Good Samaritan Bill has finally been signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard this month.

House Bill 1078 grants immunity from arrest for certain alcohol-related offenses to underage persons who assist someone in need of emergency assistance or who are themselves in need of emergency assistance.

“It’s for the good of the students,” said former SGA President Sami Zoss.

Zoss, a criminal justice senior, has been working with student leaders to push this bill forward since her freshman year.

South Dakota isn’t the first state to pass a law like this, according to the Medical Amnesty Initiative.

“After a multi-year effort, South Dakota has become the 33rd state to pass and sign this life-saving piece of legislation,” the organization said in a statement.

The bill goes into effect July 1, 2016.

A national push to create legislation like this began in 2002 at Cornell University. After they introduced the on-campus version of the policy, the university found an increase in alcohol-related calls to Emergency Medical Services.

However, the percent of those calls requiring a hospital emergency room visit decreased.

“If you’ve been drinking underage and some of your friends get hurt, if you follow a certain set of guidelines then you won’t get in trouble,” Zoss said.

Those guidelines include assisting the person in need of medical assistance until assistance arrives and remaining cooperative with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on the scene.

A follow-up study on the Cornell policy stated it was going to be controversial to get many states to buy into this legislation because there’s tension in higher education between enforcing the legal drinking age and removing barriers to underage students so they will call for help.

“An institutional decision whether or not to develop some form of medical amnesty is likely to involve philosophical disagreements among key stakeholders,” the 2006 researchers said.

Nearly ten years later, South Dakota agreed on legislation in a session that was surrounded by debate on teacher pay and the transgender student bathroom bill.

The Good Samaritan legislation was blocked previously because groups believed it encouraged underage drinking by letting minors get away with it.

Former SGA President Erik Muckey said in an October 2013 Volante interview that another issue was getting area law enforcement to sign on.

“If we can’t find common ground with law enforcement, we’re going to have a problem,” Muckey said. “That’s what has been blocking us in the past.”

Vermillion Police Chief Matt Betzen said he “strongly opposed” the bill and doesn’t think it will benefit the community.

“The simple truth is our young people already show the strength of character to call for help even when they face possible consequences,” he said.

Betzen said the new law could cause confusion for young people.

“That said, it is not the only law I don’t agree with, and my officers and I will perform our duties within the scope of the laws passed by our legislature,” Betzen said.

While the debate continued in Pierre, USD worked on alternatives. In January 2014, USD’s SGA passed a bill to pilot the Alcohol Diversion Program.

The program provided an opportunity to make sure a minor didn’t stay on the offender’s permanent record. In the first year of the program, VPD reported 278 underage consumption citations. Twenty-seven people chose to participate in the diversion program, while 22 successfully completed the program. Through 2015, a total of 59 people enrolled in the program. 

UPDATE 3/30/16 at 9 a.m.: Adds comments from Vermillion Police Department Chief Matt Betzen. 

Correction on 3/30/16 at 3:16 p.m.: A total of 22 people have successfully completed the diversion program. A previous version of this article said a total of 11 people had completed the program.