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House panel's chairman breaks tie on meningitis vaccination mandate

PIERRE--The state House of Representatives could make a final decision, possibly as early as today or Monday, whether meningitis becomes a required immunization for students to attend public school in South Dakota.

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PIERRE-The state House of Representatives could make a final decision, possibly as early as today or Monday, whether meningitis becomes a required immunization for students to attend public school in South Dakota.

Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's administration proposed the legislation, SB 28.

It won Senate approval last week, but a group of House Republican tried to kill it Thursday. They fell one vote short in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Colleen Winter, a state Health Department official, testified the plan is to require the immunization at age 11 or 12 when students enter middle school. She said there isn't a plan to require a booster vaccination at age 16.

Rep. Scott Munsterman, the committee chairman, cast tie-breaking votes twice Thursday, first to block the attempt to kill it, then to send it to the full House of Representatives with a recommendation that it pass.

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Munsterman, R-Brookings, acknowledged the arguments that the vaccine treating four strains of meningitis is expensive, the disease is relatively rare and it can be physically devastating or deadly.

"We're always looking for more evidence," said Munsterman. A chiropractor, he ran for the Republican governor nomination against Daugaard and three others in the 2010 primary election.

Also voting in favor of the mandate were Republican Reps. Kristin Conzet, of Rapid City; Thomas Holmes, of Sioux Falls; Jacqueline Sly, of Rapid City; and Mathew Wollmann, of Madison; and Democratic Reps. Steven McCleerey, of Sisseton; and Karen Soli, of Sioux Falls.

The six Republican representatives who opposed it were Blaine Campbell, of Rapid City; Fred Deutsch, of Florence; Lynne DiSanto, of Rapid City; Lana Greenfield, of Doland; Steven Haugaard, of Sioux Falls; and Leslie Heinemann, of Flandreau.

Haugaard argued that the measure should be defeated, but also said the Health Department could work to educate parents so they could make their own informed choices.

"We should put this off and take a look at it," Haugaard said. "I just don't think it's appropriate at this time."

Rhonda Kvigne, a mother from Dell Rapids who home-schools the family's children, said she quit as a school teacher last year because of government encroachment. She spoke against the mandate.

"The question is, who really owns the children?" Kvigne said.

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Supporters of the legislation stressed several times there are vaccination exemptions in state law for religious beliefs and for medical reasons.

Winter said school districts are allowed to decide whether to let students participate without the required immunizations.

She said 24 states require meningitis vaccinations for school attendance and more states are considering it.

Both sides presented various credible witnesses for and against the vaccine and the mandate, including Echo Bennett, of Presho, and her son, Gavin, who contracted meningitis as an infant.

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