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Bob Mercer

MERCER: Legislator values split over protection orders for same-sex abuses

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MERCER: Legislator values split over protection orders for same-sex abuses
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- This summer and fall, nine members of the Legislature will oversee a comprehensive review of domestic abuse in South Dakota.

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There is a divisive undercurrent that helped lead to the study. That is treatment of same-sex couples involved in abusive situations.

How divisive?

So deeply, that during the 2013 session, the Senate and the House of Representatives couldn't agree on four words in a piece of legislation.

The purpose of the bill, SB 147, was to more specifically define the family or household members covered by domestic-abuse protection orders.

The Senate passed its version on a vote of 33-2. It included a new reference to "dating relationship" and the definition as "any social relationship between the persons of a romantic or sexual nature."

The House Judiciary Committee however removed the bill's references to a dating relationship and replaced that to say persons "living in the same household."

That amendment came from Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, and prevailed on a voice vote.

When the bill next went to the House floor, four words - "of the opposite sex" - were inserted as an amendment from Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, regarding the persons living in the same household.

It too prevailed on a voice vote. The House then passed its version 52-18.

Suddenly the legislation was very different. The Senate refused to agree to the House version. A conference committee of three senators and three representatives met and concluded that they couldn't agree.

That was the end of SB 147, even though it had some powerful forces behind it.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, sponsored the bill. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill's lead House sponsor was Rep. David Lust of Rapid City. Lust is the House Republican leader.

A few months ago the Legislature's Executive Board selected the topics for studies during the interim before the 2014 session.

Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, asked for domestic abuse to be considered as a topic. The board agreed. Peters was a co-sponsor of SB 147 in its original form.

The interim study committee is scheduled to meet for the first time Monday.

Two first-year legislators are at the helm. The chairman is Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls. She also was a co-sponsor of SB 147. Vice chairman is Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton.

Tieszen and Peters are on the panel. So are Republican Reps. Jim Bolin of Canton, Kristin Conzet of Rapid City, and Tona Rozum of Mitchell, and Democrat Reps. Peggy Gibson of Huron and Karen Soli of Sioux Falls.

The Executive Board set the panel's scope of four areas Monday.

One is current state and federal regulations. Another is effectiveness of state policies and programs.

Third is prevalence of domestic abuse, including related crimes. Fourth is potential options with respect to domestic abuse laws.

During the 2012 session, a Peters-sponsored bill ran into the same deadlock between Senate and House over same-sex relationships.

The interim study will provide a broad and deep look at facts. Whether facts can bridge the same-sex division of personal values, especially in the House, is another matter.

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