Olson’s Weekly Legislative Update

By Sen. Russell Olson, Dist. 8, Senate Majority Leader
Last week I carried the Public Safety Improvement Act (SB 70) on the Senate floor. The bill passed with only two no votes, which I believe were out of concern of a few individual sections of the bill.
South Dakota’s prison population has increased more than 500 percent in the past 35 years, and total corrections spending has tripled in the last 20 years alone. Despite this continued growth in spending, South Dakota has not received optimal public safety returns. In the 17 states whose imprisonment rates decreased in the past decade, their average crime rates declined more than twice as much as South Dakota’s.
In response, state leaders formed the South Dakota Criminal Justice Initiative Work Group, a bipartisan, inter-branch, data-driven effort charged with analyzing sentencing and corrections data and developing policies to safely curtail prison growth. In total, more than 400 stakeholders were consulted in developing policy recommendations.
An extensive review of data collected by the South Dakota Department of Corrections revealed that the majority of the prison population is made up of inmates convicted of non-violent offenses. The group found that there are better ways to hold some of these offenders accountable and change their behavior.
The work group recommended a package of policies which resulted in the Public Safety Improvement Act. Its purpose is to: first, improve public safety; second, hold offenders more accountable; and third, control corrections spending.
If adopted, SB 70 would put in place improved methods of addressing offender behavior and is projected to save state taxpayers over $160 million in averted prison construction and operating expenses through 2022. Importantly, the legislation includes innovations that have been shown to reduce a person’s relapse into crime as well as measures to track the effectiveness of the program.
The bill enhances and expands drug and DUI courts. It also has a section to help identify veterans and their potential treatment needs. Another section creates two probation pilot programs similar to our 24/7 program for drug offenders. One would be in a rural area and one in a more urban area. These are based on the HOPE national initiative. It works to deter crime through random and frequent drug testing combined with swift and certain sanctions for any violations.
The bill requires our parole and probation officers to use and be trained on approaches proven to change offender behavior. It also will improve collection of restitution. It ensures offenders who have been discharged from probation or parole continue to be monitored and sanctioned regarding their court ordered financial obligations.
The legislation establishes an oversight council to monitor and evaluate implementation of the reforms. This is not a policy making body and it sunsets after five years. It will be in place to report back to the legislature and other state leaders about whether or not the policies are doing what is intended.
The bill also found some areas where we should have more targeted levels of punishment for certain types of offenses. The legislation differentiates between drug users and drug dealers and creates a tiered level of punishments for theft. As a part of these changes, the bill increases by five years the amount of time available for the worst drug dealers and manufacturers, and it increases the penalty for those stealing very large amounts of money by 10 years. In addition to those changes, it puts in place five- or 10-year additional supervision periods for chronic DUI offenders. That supervision time would have to include the use of a tool like 24/7, HOPE, ignition interlock or other enhanced monitoring tool.
The bill does not decriminalize the possession, sale or manufacturing of any controlled substance. It does not affect the release from prison of any current inmate. There are dangerous people who need to be in prison. We will still put them in prison.
This legislation is the product of months of hard work by stakeholders. It stayed true to the goals of improving public safety, holding offenders more accountable and controlling corrections spending.
This bill, in its current form, has the support of the following people and groups: Governor Dennis Daugaard, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, Attorney General Marty J. Jackley, Police Chiefs’ Association, Sheriffs’ Association, Association of County Commissioners, State’s Attorneys Association, State Bar of South Dakota, Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, Council of Substance Abuse Directors, Council of Mental Health Centers, Family Heritage Alliance, South Dakota Family Policy Council, Concerned Women for America and Eagle Forum.
This week I was also pleased to carry Senate Bills 85 and 89, which will help out ethanol producers and South Dakota’s agriculture economy. Each bill passed out of committee and will be heard on the Senate floor this week.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many friends, family and neighbors who have helped my wife, Jennie, while I am in Pierre. From helping with our children to shoveling snow, I sincerely appreciate you taking time to help her out while I’m away. Thank you.
I hope to hear from you on issues that are important to you.  I can be reached at sen.russellolson@state.sd.us or at my office in Pierre at 605-773-3828.

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