Sen. Art Rusch

This week was the seventh week of the 2020 legislative session which means that we have just two weeks left to finish all of our business. The final day will be March 12 with “veto day” on March 30. We always wonder whether we will need to return for veto day but so far, in the five sessions that I have been in the legislature, there always was something that the governor vetoed.

As I pointed out last week, the appropriations committee has recommended that the legislature adopt an anticipated revenue figure of $1 billion,708 million for the 2020 budget year (which is nearly over) and $1 billion,742 million for the 2021 budget year (which will start on July 1, 2020). The FY2020 anticipated revenue is about $12 million dollars more than the governor anticipated in December when she delivered her budget address and the FY2021 anticipated revenue is about $19 million dollars higher. Hopefully with this additional money there won't be any problem with approving the $5 million for the Health Science Building at USD which the governor recommended in her December budget.

Another issue which is pending in the legislature right now is the legalization of industrial hemp. Last year the governor vetoed the hemp bill but this year she has indicated that she will approve it if there is adequate funding attached. The problem is that there is a wide difference of opinion as to what is "adequate" funding. The governor has requested $1.9 million for immediate costs and $1.6 million ongoing costs (including 15 additional employees) for the hemp program.

However, the conversations that I have heard indicate that the legislature thinks those figures are too high. The Senate consensus seems to be that we should approve no more than three additional employees and that the ongoing expenses should be paid out of licensing fees collected from the hemp producers.

Cross-over day was on Feb. 27 which means that all bills have to be passed by the house where they originated or they will be killed. As a result there have been some long days to make sure that all of the bills were considered by their assigned committee and by the legislative body where they started.

One of the bills that I drafted and sponsored this year was SB 138 which provided parole eligibility for those who received life sentences for second degree murder and for manslaughter. As the law exists now, a person who is sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder is never eligible for parole but neither is a person who is sentenced to life for second degree murder or to life for manslaughter even though those crimes require much less culpability.

My proposal was that a person sentenced to life for second degree murder would be eligible for parole after 40 years and one sentenced to life for manslaughter would be eligible for parole after 30 years. If a prisoner created problems while they were in prison they could be denied parole. A person sentenced at age 20 would be 50 or 60 years old by that time and would not present much danger to society. I thought my proposal made a lot of sense but it was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Another bill which I drafted and sponsored was SB 172 which regulated civil asset forfeiture. Most citizens are not aware of the civil asset forfeiture laws by which law enforcement can seize money, cars and other property (including homes or farms) if there is probable cause to believe the property is connected to the commission of a crime. The owner of the property doesn't have to be convicted of a crime and if they want to get their property back they have the burden of proving that the property was not connected to the commission of a crime.

In calendar year 2018, law enforcement seized $1.3 million dollars in cash and 70 vehicles worth $110,000. Under current law the attorney general has complete discretion what to do with that money and property. SB 172 would have required him to get legislative approval for spending that money. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee but was killed on the Senate floor.


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