Sen. Art Rusch

There were 460 bills introduced in the legislature this year not counting the various resolutions and commemorations. Twenty of the bills have been withdrawn and as of Feb. 15 the governor had signed 38 bills into law and vetoed one bill. There are apparently 17 bills on her desk waiting for a decision as to whether she will sign them or veto them. Monday, Feb. 25 was "cross-over day." This means that all bills must be passed out of the legislative house where they began by that day. If a bill hasn't crossed over to the other house, it is dead. This is an essential management tool to make sure that all bills are moving forward and that the legislature doesn't end up with a backlog on the final days.

The Senate has disposed of almost all the bills that started here and have worked on many house bills as well, but it is my understanding that the House still has many bills to consider and may have a long evening to finish up all their bills.

It is interesting that for several years the Legislature has seen proposed legislation regulating the tattoo industry but this year for the first time we are seeing a proposal regulating the tattoo removal industry.

One of the bills about which I have a heard from lots of people was SB122 which did not allow the Board of Regents too make rules prohibiting guns on campus. I heard from hundreds of people who were concerned about that bill and only 1 or 2 percent of the e-mails were from people who favored the bill.

The supporters are so afraid of the terrible things that might happen to someone who doesn't have a gun to defend themselves but there are no examples from South Dakota and my experience has been that more people get into trouble because they have guns than save themselves. I voted against that bill in committee and voted against it and spoke against it on the floor. It was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 24 to 10 but I expect it will be back again next year.

We have bills this year to roll back the "presumptive probation" for adults as well as to make it easier to commit juveniles to the Department of Corrections. For years South Dakota led the nation in the percentage of people who are incarcerated. Most of those are for non-violent offenses. SB70 which was passed by the legislature several years ago established probation as the presumptive sentence for certain low-level non-violent offenders.

Judges can still deviate from that and sentence offenders to prison for good reasons and do that in about 20 percent of the cases. We heard emotional arguments about the terrible, violent offenders who are roaming our streets because of "presumptive probation" but that only applies to Class 5 and 6 felonies which are the lowest level of crimes and I think that it is unlikely that these dangerous offenders are only being convicted of Class 5 or 6 felonies and that judges are not choosing to deviate from presumptive probation in those cases.

The Legislative Research Council estimated that if SB19, which repeals "presumptive probation," passes, an additional 282 people would be sent to prison, at a cost of nearly $40 million dollars over the next 10 years. This doesn't consider the construction costs of a new women's prison, since our present one is over capacity. It is likely that a new men's prison would also be necessary since our present prison is nearly full.

I am concerned that any money we spend for incarceration or for additional corrections facilities is money that won't be available for nursing homes, education or state employees. SB19 passed in the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5 to 2 but we will have to see what happens on the floor of the Senate.


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