The Legislative Research Council’s Executive Board (E-Board) serves as the governance body of the LRC. I serve as one of 15 members elected to the E-Board. Among the statutory functions of the board is selecting interim study committees and their membership. The board has assigned each of the three District 24 legislators to serve on at least one committee this year.
Three of the topics selected for this interim deal with the state’s corrections system. A recent statewide study revealed that absent significant criminal justice reform, as the state’s population continues to grow, the prison population may surpass the operating capacities of the current facilities. In addition, the SD Department of Corrections has limited ability to accommodate inmates with special needs such as medical, mental, and behavioral conditions, and the challenge of filling open staff positions means we need to find ways to maximize staffing efficiencies.
The study recommended that South Dakota begin planning for a new correctional facility to replace the State Penitentiary built in 1882, to relieve crowding at the Mike Durfee State Prison, and to improve the ability to care for inmates suffering from mental and behavioral health, chronic health, and mobility issues.
The total cost to address needs of the correctional system is estimated to be over $600 million. The Legislature began saving for this by setting aside $70 million for the Incarceration Construction Fund. The legislature also established a task force including legislators and members of the public to study the issue and report back regarding incarceration and corrections within the State. Representative Will Mortenson has been appointed to this task force.
In addition, based on concerns about changes made in 2015 to our juvenile justice system, an interim committee will study the impact of those changes and determine if there need to be alternatives for placing juvenile offenders. A third committee will be looking at county and regional jails, and whether there are opportunities for strategic partnerships between the state and counties.
A fourth interim committee will deal with property taxes. As home values go up, we hear concerns about the potential impact on property tax bills. This committee will study the existing property tax structure in South Dakota and how it compares with similar states. Rep. Mike Weisgram has been named to this committee; I have been named as vice-chair of this committee.
All committee information is available on the LRC website at sdlegislature.gov.