Mike Stewart, AP
FILE - In this April 22, 2008 aerial file photo, buildings are seen on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' compound that has nearly 50,000 square feet of residential space near Pringle, in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. A South Dakota legislative panel has approved imposing a criminal penalty for failing to report births and deaths based on concerns about the polygamous group's outpost in the Black Hills. State law requires births and deaths to be reported, but the Department of Health said in 2017 that no such records had been filed from the compound's address in the previous 10 years. One former resident said births occurred at the site, including two of her own children. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota legislative panel on Wednesday backed a measure meant to address concerns about the FLDS Church's Black Hills outpost by making it a misdemeanor not to report births and deaths.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 12-1 to send the measure to the chamber's floor. Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin, the sponsor, said the measure is a "tiny step" to start enforcement at the compound, which was founded by the Fundamentalist LDS Church that has long been based in the Utah-Arizona border towns of Hildale and Colorado City.

"Finally, we're at least doing something," Goodwin said.

State law currently requires births and deaths to be reported, but there's no penalty for failing to do so. The Department of Health said in 2017 that no such records had been filed from the compound's address in the previous 10 years.

One former resident, though, said births occurred at the site, including two of her own children. She said the sect didn't allow her to get the documents for daughters born in 2008 and 2010.

The FLDS group opened the 140-acre compound near the town of Pringle more than a decade ago. Known to the faithful as "R23," the compound sits along a gravel road and is shielded from view by tall pine trees, a privacy fence and a guard tower.

Warren Jeffs, considered by the group to be its prophet, is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered to be his brides. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, was sentenced to prison in 2017 for his role in carrying out a multimillion-dollar food-stamp fraud scheme and for taking off his ankle monitor and fleeing from home confinement while awaiting trial. He was caught nearly a year later after pawn shop workers spotted him and called police.

3 comments on this story

In 2017, Goodwin sought to have lawmakers look into the South Dakota outpost, including how many people lived there, whether it had a home-schooling program and whether residents were involved in polygamy or sex trafficking. Lawmakers decided not to, though, with one top legislator saying it was up to law enforcement to investigate.

Goodwin's legislation would make it a misdemeanor not to file a birth certificate within one year or to fail to notify the county coroner and sheriff of a death within 48 hours.

A company tied to Seth Jeffs, who authorities have said led the sect's South Dakota Black Hills compound, last year purchased about 40 acres of land in northern Minnesota. Seth Jeffs, who took a plea deal in the food-stamp fraud case, applied in August to build a 5,760-square-foot building on the Minnesota land.