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PIERRE | A legislative committee has moved forward a bill that would add clergy and church staff to the state's list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.

The House Judiciary committee on Wednesday, Feb. 20, approved House Bill 1230 by a 9-3 vote. There are already a number of professionals listed in existing law as mandatory reporters of child abuse, including physicians, social workers and teachers. HB 1230 adds church staff and clergy to that list.

The addition is not exclusive to Christian churches. HB 1230 defines "clergymen" in accordance with existing statute as a "minister, priest, rabbi, accredited Christian Science practitioner, or other similar functionary of a religious organization."

Opponents of the bill said the bill was too far-reaching, and protocol on suspected cases of child abuse should be left to individual congregations to decide.

Some committee members also voiced concern about including "church staff" in the designation. Mandated reporting could be too great a burden to bear for mundane staffers like secretaries or musicians, they said. The committee did not amend the bill on Wednesday, but said an amendment may be made before the bill is introduced on the House floor.

Proponents of the bill said that clergymen can be trusted adults in children's lives who they feel comfortable divulging in if they're suffering from abuse.

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In addition, Rep. Scyller Borglum, R-Rapid City, said HB 1230 could "alleviate young pastors of the burden of having to decide whose loyalty to pursue" if they learn of child abuse perpetrated by a fellow clergymen or church elder. Such burdens on young clergy are even heavier, Borglum said, when the alleged perpetrator has power or prestige in the church.

Borglum said, "By passing this bill into law, we will take the burden off young clergy and we will be able to say to them, 'You have to do this. It's very simple. It's very straightforward. It can't offend anybody in your church because frankly, this is the law and we prioritize children over people’s influence and egos.'"

The bill now moves onto the House floor for debate.

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