A bill that would make pointing lasers at police officers a misdemeanor passed the Senate Judiciary committee Thursday and will be heard Monday in the state Senate.
Sen. Helene Duhamel introduced the bill, which was deferred Tuesday after lawmakers and lobbyists said it was vague, unnecessary and only applied to law enforcement.
Duhamel amended the bill by Thursday, but lobbyists like Justin Bell with the South Dakota Criminal Defense Lawyers Association said again that the amendment didn’t resolve opponents’ concerns.
The committee passed Senate Bill 79 as amended. Duhamel said it was a small rewrite, but “very much the same in what our goal is.”
She said the bill is necessary because “as riots spread this past spring and summer,” protesters began using new tactics to injure officers, such as throwing fireworks, rocks, bricks and paint. Protesters also began testing the effect lasers had on officers in the field to “distract, intimidate, interfere and cause some harm.”
There are regulations and safety measures in place in the U.S. on the type and strength of lasers that civilians can purchase, Duhamel said, but shared concerns about “unregulated and unfiltered lasers” manufactured in China that can “ignite materials on fire and have a range of five miles,” which could damage an unprotected officer’s eyes in seconds.
Loss of vision is among the most severe injuries -- “second to death,” Duhamel said -- that could occur for an officer and could force premature medical retirement.
Senate Bill 79 would make it a Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by 1 year maximum and up to a $5,000 fine to point a laser at a police officer, but getting the laser into an officer’s eye rises to the level of assault already in law, a Class 6 felony.