Gov. Kristi Noem's 'moment of silence' bill killed 9-6 in committee

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Jan. 21—PIERRE — Gov. Kristi Noem's bill to require a moment of silence in schools was effectively killed in committee Friday, Jan. 21, after lawmakers voted 9-6 to defer the bill to the nonexistent 41st legislative day.

House Bill 1015, which would have required a moment of silence for students and employees at the beginning of each school day, was introduced to the Legislature on Jan. 6. In a December news release, Noem said the moment of silence would restore protections for prayer in schools, by "guaranteeing" an opportunity to pray in schools.

"Every student deserves the opportunity to begin their day with a calm, silent moment," Noem said in December. "I hope students will take this opportunity to say a quick prayer or reflect on their upcoming day. However they choose to take advantage of this time, it will be beneficial to students and teachers alike."

The bill's text, however, made no mention of prayer.

Most opponents of the bill wondered why a moment of silence needed to be written into law.

"Is there anything stopping kids from praying now," asked Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, adding that the state's constitution already protects the right to prayer in schools.

As Allen Cambon, a policy adviser to Noem, pointed out, schools already take a moment to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and could work the moment of silence in with ease.

Other opponents pointed out enforcement loopholes left in the legislation.

The bill reads the moment of silence can last "up to one minute," to which Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, wondered what would happen if a teacher decided their classroom silence would last for only half of a second.

Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Education Association, said he had spoken with a teacher who suggested students could put their heads down during the moment of silence — but that would violate the bill's text which noted no school employee may dictate the action to be taken by students.

Murphy said teachers already have practices to implement a moment of silence when children in classrooms are getting rowdy, and wondered how teachers could enforce younger children to stay still and quiet.

After hearing from four proponents and five opponents, Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, motioned to approve the bill on a do-pass recommendation — which was seconded by Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown.

Before the committee could vote, Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, proposed a substitute motion, seconded by Rep. Paul Miskimins, R-Mitchell, to defer the bill to the 41st legislative day. The deferment passed the committee on a 9-6 vote, effectively killing the bill, as the 2022 legislative session is only prescribed for 35 work days.

Reps. Sydney Davis, R-Burbank; Drew Dennert, R-Aberdeen; Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls; Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City; Jennifer Keintz, D-Eden; Miskimins; Mortenson; Stevens and Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, voted to defer the bill.

Reps. Bartels; Fred Deutsch, R-Florence; Sam Marty, R-Prairie City; Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish; Bethany Soye, R-Sioux Falls; and Peterson voted not to defer the bill.