GSAP signed by governor, helps save student lives

The fear of arrest should no longer stop an intoxicated person from calling 911 to help a friend in need now that the Good Samaritan Alcohol Policy Bill is law.

Governor Dennis Daugaard signed House Bill 1078, the GSAP, into law Tuesday, March 15 and it will take effect July 1.

GSAP will grant limited immunity to underage drinkers who help another person in need seek medical attention. This limited immunity will protect the caller from arrest if he or she stays with the injured person or person at risk of needing medical assistance and complies with law enforcement.

 The GSAP bill was strongly lobbied for and brought to the Legislature by the South Dakota State Medical Association. The bill also grants limited immunity to people who seek medical attention themselves.

 Dean Krogman, the chief lobbyist for the organization, supported the bill because it protects people in dangerous situations.

 “It might be lifesaving and they might need help, and that’s the essence of what the term Good Samaritan means,” Krogman said.

Students might be too scared of consequences if they call 911 for help, and that’s where the dangerous situation is, said Doug Wermedal, interim vice president of student affairs.

 “This law is trying to eliminate those types of things, and I think that’s worth reaching for,” Wermedal said.

 Students could risk getting a minor for drinking underage, and although law enforcement officers typically use their own discretion with situations like this, students may not feel comfortable calling and sticking around to help out another person in need.

Rebecca Peick, freshman hospitality management major, said she would still call law enforcement if she was in a situation like this, but thinks such a law would be beneficial for students at SDSU.

“I think it would definitely be a good thing because it would allow people to not worry about helping a friend if they were seriously in trouble,” Peick said. “I know alcohol poisoning is a big thing, and it would allow people the ability to help so more people don’t die.”

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have implemented similar laws granting limited immunity to intoxicated minors. Kansas was the most recent to pass a medical amnesty law in February 2016.

 Researchers estimate 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries each year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

 Caleb Finck, former president of the Students’ Association, lobbied in Pierre in support of HB 1078 because he believes such a law would help prevent dangerous situations.

 “It’s a safety issue is really what it is. We’re trying to save lives,” Finck said. “We’re not trying to get people out of trouble. Just because they made one poor decision doesn’t mean they need to make another poor decision not to help somebody.”

 Gordon Dekkenga, the Brookings Hospital ambulance director, said the primary concern of the hospital is for the patient. He said people should call if another person is in trouble, and a law helping others feel more comfortable to make that call would be beneficial.

 Arguments made against the bill include taking away an officer’s authority and discretion in situations and that the bill may be abused by people.

 Don Challis, assistant vice president of safety and security, rarely supports things that take away autonomy from law enforcement but said he hopes such a law would lead to more people getting the help they need.

 Because the law would only grant limited immunity, officers can still use their discretion, Wermedal said.

 Finck said he couldn’t see a situation in which the law would be abused because of the consequences already associated with a medical emergency, such as hospital bills and the risk of harm to the people.

“Any time someone ends up in the emergency room … those are going to be life changing experiences and you are going to learn from those mistakes—that’s the bottom line,” Finck said. “I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t learn from those mistakes.”