Medical amnesty clause for students getting a face lift

Bill the bill

New laws may give students increased immunity from drug/alcohol violations


Eight years ago, Dean of Students Jim Bies and other campus officials formed and implemented the current medical amnesty clause in the student handbook.

The clause shields students seeking medical attention for themselves or others from any academic punishment for an alcohol or drug violation.

Bies said while the intention was to reduce the chance students wouldn’t seek help for themselves or another student for fear of punishment, the clause “lacks teeth” because it only protects students from academic punishment.

Amnesty from law enforcement penalties was out of the question.

However, because of changes to South Dakota law in the last two state legislative sessions, campus officials have been ironing out this discrepancy, creating a new amnesty policy that meshes both academic and criminal justice immunity.

“We want to have a memorandum of understanding with Sioux Falls Police Department, and perhaps even the Minnehaha County Sheriff Department, on how they will respond to a situation that may occur on our own campus or in our university neighborhood,” Bies said. “It’s one thing to create our own policy, but the last thing in the world we want to see happen is that students would have one understanding from us and another from the police.”

The first step in changing the clause is receiving a clear interpretation of the new laws passed by the South Dakota Legislature. House Bill 1078 and House Bill 1082 grant “limited immunity” from alcohol and drug-related offenses, respectively, for any person in need of medical treatment or assisting a person in need.

The keywords to each law are “limited immunity.”

Director of Campus Safety Rick Tupper has been working with local and state law enforcement for interpretations of each statute and police protocol regarding immunity.

He said because HB 1078 forgives individuals in medical need only for underage consumption, open container and public intoxication violations, other crimes are fair game.

“The statute is really designed so that if you or someone with you gets into a medical emergency as a result of alcohol consumption, you won’t be charged criminally for that,” Tupper said. “But it doesn’t provide coverage if you provided the alcohol to them or [if] you provided the location.”

This means students can still be punished for giving minors alcohol or providing a place for underage consumption.

Tupper said HB 1082 is trickier because it involves illegal drugs and multiple qualifications a person must meet to receive immunity.

In any case, Tupper said Augustana’s updated amnesty clause will mirror the new laws.

“This is all about harm reduction,” Bies said. “It’s all about keeping our students safe. It’s also acknowledging that classmates are in the best position to act in positive ways in support of other classmates.”

Sophomore Maddie Braun said she hasn’t personally been in such a situation, but if she was she hopes someone would call for her.

“I’d understand why it might be scary to call for fear of repercussions,” Braun said. “But the overall safety of whoever is involved should be the biggest concern.”

While she understands the  concerns that the clause could promote unhealthy drinking habits, Braun said she doesn’t think students would push the envelope without considering repercussions.

“I think if it’s happening already, I don’t think [the change] would be any reward to go drink,” she said. “It’s just for the rare case that something bad happens.”

Tupper said while he hopes the new clause promotes responsible drinking habits, it doesn’t disallow Campus Safety from holding students accountable for unsafe actions.

“I think it’s not realistic to tell people you can stop people from drinking,” he  said. “It’s going to happen, but how do you teach people how to be responsible with it?”

Bies said the new clause will be effective by the 2017 fall semester.

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