Last updated on 2015.02.15
During the Senate Judiciary hearing on Senate Bill 162 Thursday, Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said he had patterned his plan to arm certain legislators to play security guard after the 2013 school gunslinger bill. Then-Rep. Greenfield thought it was a good idea to distract teachers and put students at risk by bringing more guns to school, so why not apply the same logic to the Capitol?
Senator Greenfield's effort to link his Capitol gunslinger bill to the school gunslinger (sorry—we're supposed to call them sentinels) bill inspired Senator Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) to ask a logical question:
Sen. Heinert to Greenfield: "Senator, do you know how many schools have used the school sentinel bill?"
Greenfield: "No, and I don't believe that information would be publicly available because of the confidentiality—er, Mr. Tieszen*, I saw three fingers sticking up."
Dick Tieszen, lobbyist, in audience: "No, that is a zero."
Greenfield: "Oh. Zero."
Chairman Craig Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"
Heinert: "I do believe the answer is zero" [Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, South Dakota Legislature, Pierre, SD, 2015.02.12, timestamp 34:40].
After a question about current security measures in the Capitol, Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) contradicted Senator Heinert's and Dick Tieszen's statements that no one is using the school sentinel program:
Sen. Monroe: "The answer to the question, are any schools— have any schools enacted the sentinel bill, the answer is not zero, and for the confidentiality again, I'm not going to tell who. I just wanted to clear that up. That's all I had, Mr. Chairman."
Sen. Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"
Heinert: "I'm not here to debate the good Senator from Pierre, but the answer is zero."
Sen. Tieszen: "All right, the debate stops. This is question time to start with. If you have a question, direct it to someone who testified. If not, we'll—discussion in a moment" [Senate Judiciary, 2015.02.12, timestamp 36:10].
Do some schools have sentinel gunslingers roaming their halls? And do confidentiality prevent them from telling us about that lurking danger to our children?
The answers, Mr. Chairman, are no and no. In reverse order:
Back in 2013, House Education amended the school gunslinger bill to keep discussion and implementation of the program secret in each school. Senate State Affairs quite sensibly eliminated that secrecy clause, thus requiring the House to vote on that bill again. Then-Rep. Greenfield cast an aye on that concurrence vote; had he cast an eye, he'd have known he was voting for a law that contains no confidentiality clause. Review SDCL 13–64, ARSD 2:01:15 and ARSD 2:01:16, the chapter and rules enacting and managing the school sentinel program, and you will not find a single clause saying that schools shall or may keep their use of the school sentinel provisions secret. Part of the 2013 bill, now SDCL 13-64-7 (you read this when you voted on it, right, Brock?), allows school district residents to refer implementation of the school sentinel program to a public vote, meaning the decision to implement is necessarily public.
That means that when I call a school district and say, "Got school sentinels?" they have to tell me. When I call the Attorney General's office to ask whether any schools have submitted applicants for school sentinel training and whether any applicants have taken and passed that training, the Attorney General's office can tell me numbers and maybe even names.
But the only number the Attorney General's office has is zero. I called yesterday, and spokesperson Sara Rabern confirmed that, since the enactment of training and certification rules on September 17, 2013, no schools have submitted applications, no school staff have come to Pierre for training, and no teachers or janitors or other school personnel are currently roaming our school halls as certified school sentinels. This fact is consistent with previous reports of skepticism and widespread condemnation of the school gunslinger program among school officials, as well as concerns that arming school staff would cause schools to lose their liability insurance.
I have contacted Senator Monroe to ask where he got his information to the contrary. I await his response.
Update 2015.02.15 11:18 CST: I originally reported, based on my listening to the SDPB audio of the hearing, that Senator Craig Tieszen had made the "zero" hand gesture and made the comment "No, that is a zero." Senator Tieszen informs us (see below in comment section) that that gesture and comment came not from him but from lobbyist Dick Tieszen, who was in the audience at the hearing. I have amended the above text to reflect Senator Tieszen's clarification, and I apologize for the error.