Sen. Art Rusch

A major issue which the Legislature has been dealing with this summer is the expenditure of the CARES Act funds which were given to the state by the federal government to help address COVID 19 expenses. South Dakota received $1.25 billion of which $200 million has been given to local governments and $41 million given to K-12 education. The state has also given money to public and private higher education institutions to address extra expenses that are directly COVID related. However, there are still some questions as to what higher education expense will be approved by the federal government. We have also heard that if Congress can reach an agreement on additional COVID funds, some of them will be directed to education and health services.

South Dakota still has approximately $900 million of the CARES Act funds left. The legislative Joint Committee on Appropriations (JCA) has authority to allocate federal funds and is more flexible than the Legislature which is important since the federal guidelines on the expenditures have been changing regularly. Senators have met with the members of the JCA to let them know our opinions about how the money should be spent. The majority of the Senate believes that money should be spent to benefit the many small businesses in South Dakota that have suffered from the COVID pandemic. The consensus appears to be that one of the best ways to do that would be to act through local economic developments corporations.

Although the South Dakota Legislature meets for only approximately 40 days in January, February and March of each year, most legislators are assigned to committees that meet during the rest of the year. Because of my background and experience as a prosecutor (States Attorney of Clay County from 1972 to 1984) and as a Circuit Court Judge (1993 to 2011), I have been appointed as the Senate Republican Representative on the Corrections Commission. The Senate Democratic Representative is Sen. Troy Heinert of Mission. The Corrections Commission was created by state law to assist the Department of Corrections in examining criminal justice issues and make suggestions as to how to address problems in the corrections system. In addition, none of the prison industries can be expanded without the permission of the Corrections Commission.

The numbers that the Corrections Commission have been given appear to show that our prison population is moving in what I believe is the right direction, i.e. our end of fiscal year prison population has been dropping for the past three years - at the end of FY18 (July 1, 2018) the total population was 4,001, at the end of FY19 (July 1, 2019) the prison population was 3,819, at the end of FY20 (July 1, 2020) the prison population was 3,478 and at the end of July 2020, the population had fallen to 3,402. The 3,402 prison inmates at the end of July, 2020, consist of 2,932 males and 470 females.

One of the consequences of the falling numbers of prisoners is that the state of South Dakota has more people under supervision on parole. At the end of FY18 we had 3,126 people on parole, at the end of FY19 we had 3,474 and at the end of FY20 we had 3,712 people on parole. Each of our state parole agents is now supervising 68 people which are lot of parolees for each of them to oversee.

Unfortunately, our numbers of juvenile admissions to the Department of Corrections have been growing. In FY18 there were 84 new admissions and 7 violators, in FY19 there were 79 new admissions but 11 violators and in FY20 there were 112 new admissions and 11 violators.

I also serve as one of the Senate members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC). GOAC deals with audits of state departments and agencies; and oversight of juvenile corrections. The GOAC Committee meets every month outside of the legislative session. GOAC had their August meeting on Aug. 26. At that meeting GOAC received a report from the Department of Legislative Audit and the Bureau of Finance and Management on South Dakota's expenditures of CARES Act funds. We also received reports from the State Board of Internal Control concerning audits of state agencies which were done during the past years and from the Secretary of State concerning their plans for the November 2020 election.


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