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South Dakota to require meningitis vaccinations

PIERRE—Meningitis vaccinations should be required for students in South Dakota, the state House of Representatives decided Wednesday.

The vote was 42-25 in favor. The legislation, SB 28, now goes to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for his signature to become law.

The state Department of Health requested the requirement and had the governor's support.

The department will set rules. The vaccination likely would be required for students age 11 and 12. The vaccine doesn't work well for younger children.

The legislation previously had been deferred seven times by the House. The Senate approved it 23-10 on Jan. 27.

"I can tell everybody is wore out," Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, said just before the House vote.

He said the long give-and-take in the House was similar to the deliberations in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Munsterman cast the deciding vote, to get SB 28 out of the committee, 7-6.

Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, spoke against it. "The parents who have contacted me made it clear they don't want any more mandates," Greenfield said.

Rep. Leslie Heinemann, R-Flandreau, said the House committee's discussion was "very factual."

"I voted no. I'm not going to change my vote. I've been asked several times to do that," Heinemann said.

He praised the public good from vaccinations, but said private rights need to be considered against the low occurrence and devastating results of the disease.

For Rep. Fred Deutsch, protecting parents' choice outweighed the threat of contracting the disease

"It was a very tough vote for me, also," said Deutsch, R-Florence.

He said protecting four children requires vaccinations for 125,000.

The story of a small outbreak that happened at a Mobridge wrestling tournament helped Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, understand the danger.

"It affects your family. It affects your community. It affects you forever," Sly said. "For me, the decision I made was yes."

A fourth member of the committee, Rep. Kristin Conzet, said she struggled, too. Conzet, R-Rapid City, said meningitis is more prevalent in South Dakota than in North Dakota and Minnesota, which have mandated the vaccinations.

Conzet said the House has often fought over one unborn life during debates on abortion legislation. She urged House members to protect their constituents by voting for the requirement, calling it "a matter of precaution."

In response to a legislator's questions, Conzet said the state Department of Health is doing its job and the money will be part of the state budget. She said the federal government isn't offering an incentive.