Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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HIV testing bill grudgingly approved


PIERRE, SD — A bill one lawmaker labeled “absolutely stupid” was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

At issue was HB1061, a bill that allows victims of sexual assault to request an HIV test of their alleged attacker.

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, explained that South Dakota already has a broader statute for the request of testing by victims of attacks that may include blood borne pathogens.

The language in HB1061, according to Reed, was requested by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“They were not happy with the language” in the current statute, Reed said.

To force the issue, the Justice Department threatened to withhold a $37,500 Violence Against Women Act grant and 5 percent of future grant funding if the law was not changed to use the federal language.

Charles McGuigan, chief deputy in the attorney general’s office, who spoke in favor of the bill, said it was a cause of some frustration because South Dakota’s current statute works fine and, in some cases better, than the federally requested changes.

“Our existing statute provides more protection to victims,” said McGuigan, noting that the bill was an addition to state law and that the previous law would stay on the books.

Speaking in opposition to the bill was Justin Bell, representing the South Dakota Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, who asserted that the Legislature was being asked to change the law in order to save grant money.

“That’s all this is about,” Bell said. “We’re here discussing whether or not the federal government can control our statutes.”

Reed, admitting that the grant money was a factor, also said that the Justice Department wanted the change in the “best interest of victims to get HIV testing as soon as possible.”

After he made the do pass recommendation, Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion, said allowing the federal government to dictate South Dakota law was “absolutely stupid,” adding, “I don’t think we can afford to pass up this money.”

After the committee’s 7-0 vote, the bill went to the Senate where it was approved on a 34-0 vote. It has already passed through the House and now goes to the governor for her signature.