South Dakota is fiscally sound but needs to do something to stem the state’s skyrocketing prison population. That was the message from Governor Dennis Daugaard during Tuesday’s State of the State address that kicked off the 88th legislative session.
The speech started out much like his budget address a month ago as he highlighted South Dakota's solid finances while saying several other states are struggling with budgets.
"As other states are looking where to cut, we can look where shall we spend these dollars," Daugaard said.
Daugaard thanked those across South Dakota who survived the ten percent budget cuts from two years ago and said those cuts put the state in the position it is in today.
"Among the states there are bright spots and South Dakota is a comparative bright spot because we have contained our spending and adopted conservative revenue estimates," Daugaard said.
But in that budget is something that concerns the governor: spending on adult corrections has tripled in the last two decades. South Dakota now has a higher imprisonment rate than any other state in the region.
"Prison is an expensive place to change offender behavior and studies have shown that prison is not the effective place to treat those with drug, alcohol and mental health issues," Daugaard said.
Shortly after Tuesday's address, the governor filed legislation recommending reforms for the state's criminal justice system. The proposal includes more alternative sentencing for drug and alcohol offenders and increased supervision of offenders in the community.
Daugaard says 80 percent of the inmates in South Dakota’s prisons are non-violent offenders.
"This set of proposals isn't about being soft on crime; it's about being smart on crime," Daugaard said.
The governor’s speech was less than an hour and while Democratic leaders agree with his push to reform the criminal justice system, House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff said the speech lacked in other areas, namely addressing education funding.
“The main thing never came up and if you want to talk about stewardship, how about stewardship for our kids? There are 125,000 public school kids out there. There’s nothing more important to our economic development; nothing more important to those kids’ future,” Hunhoff said.
Hunhoff said education funding and the expansion of Medicaid under the new Affordable Care Act are two issues that are also likely to get a lot of debate from lawmakers during the 2013 session.