Written by Don Byrd

[UPDATE: South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law.]

The South Dakota legislature sent Senate Bill 149 to the governor, who has said he will consider arguments from both sides before deciding whether to sign.

The bill seeks to protect child-placement agencies from penalty for declining to provide services that conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs. The bill requires any agency declining service on this basis to provide clients with a list of other agencies and contact information.

Here is an excerpt from the bill:

The state may not discriminate or take any adverse action against a child-placement agency or an organization seeking to become a child-placement agency on the basis, wholly or partly, that the child-placement agency has declined or will decline to provide any service that conflicts with, or provide any service under circumstances that conflict with the agency’s written sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction of the child-placement agency.

The Argus Leader reports:

[The bill’s backers] argue the bill is needed to preempt efforts to make private agencies drop policies that help them determine which prospective parents can adopt children.

Currently, about a dozen agencies in the state are able to create and use policies of their choice to place children as they don’t accept public funds for those services. None of those agencies hold state contracts for adoption or foster care services, but some receive funding for other programs.

Six agencies, including one with religious ties, currently receive state funds to place foster children in South Dakota. Those groups are currently barred from placing based on faith-based policies due state and federal non-discrimination guidelines.

The bill passed the State House on a 43-20 vote, and passed the Senate 27-8.