Sen. Art Rusch

There was a lot of publicity about the redistricting changes that the special session of the Legislature made from Nov. 8 to the 10th. The Legislature did get a new redistricted map drawn for the next ten years and I believe that it was a truly bipartisan effort that was supported by members of both parties. However, the redistricting is just a small part of the legislative work that goes on year-round.

One of my assignments this year has been to serve on the South Dakota Child Support Commission. The federal government requires every state to reconsider its child support guidelines, which judges and child support referees use to set child support in divorces and child custody matters.

This is supposed to be done every four years but there was a one-year delay due to COVID. The last time that the commission studied this issue was in 2016. I also served on the commission then. Also on the Child Support Commission this year was Rep. Mike Stevens from Yankton.

The Child Support Commission held a series of hearings across South Dakota to consider what kinds of changes should be made to the present guidelines. We also were advised by an economist from the Center for Policy Research in Denver, Colorado. As a result, the Commission is going to recommend to the Legislature that the guidelines call for higher child support at higher income levels to reflect increased costs of raising children but that at lower income levels the guidelines will call for lower child support.

The economist testified that there are a lot of jobs in South Dakota and across the nation that are low-paying and don’t provide 40 hours per week or paid benefits. She told us that probably 25 percent of South Dakota jobs are at that rung and that makes it very difficult for them to pay child support at current levels.

The commission heard that this will have a potential negative impact on children from lower-income households but we also heard that lower-income parents may benefit from the potential change because it would be easier for them to make payments rather go into arrears.

I also serve on the “Mental Health Procedures Oversight Council.” This council was established by the Legislature in 2017 to try and improve the criminal justice systems responses to persons with mental illness.

It includes representatives from the judicial branch, law enforcement, the Legislature, county commissioners, public defenders, prosecutors, the Department of Social Services, a clinical psychologist, a representative from the SD Council of Community Behavioral Health and from the governor’s office.

The goal is to try and prevent jail admissions of people in a mental health crisis. To accomplish that, Law Enforcement Training has increased the number of hours of crisis response training provided in its Basic Law Enforcement Certification Course and is also providing additional advanced training. In Fiscal Year 2021, 17 law enforcement officers received Crisis Intervention Team Training and 123 individuals were trained in the Basic Certification Course. To date, 651 individuals have completed the Safe Scenes training online.

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