Full disclosure: my household receives a pastor’s salary and housing allowance.
The Democratic caucus usually writes much better bills than its Republican counterparts in the South Dakota Legislature. But even Democrats make mistakes.
Representative Erin Healy (D-14/Sioux Falls) is back with her effort to add clergy to the list of mandatory reporters of suspected abuse or neglect. She tried last year with 2019 HB 1230 and saw her bill fail 33–34 in the House. Rep. Healy returns this year with House Bill 1212 seeking to infringe on confidentiality pastors owe their congregants.
Representative Healy’s new bill differs from last year’s bill in ways. First, Rep. Healy wisely limits her bill to clergy instead of including church staff. Healy amended staff out of her bill on the House floor last year, and that amendment passed on a voice vote before the full bill failed. Healy also includes dental hygienists in this expansion of the mandatory reporter law.
Including clergy on the mandatory reporter list was a bad idea last year. It’s not any better this year. It still obliges clergy to violate confidentiality on the shaky basis of what courts will call hearsay. We rightly get worked up about members of the clergy abusing their power and abusing children, but dragooning them into agents of the state is not an appropriate or necessary response.
The South Dakota Legislature makes enough errors inserting its members’ church into state affairs. We Democrats should resist the impulse to insert the state into church affairs.