PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — On the afternoon of Monday, February 17, 2023, the South Dakota House heard two bills aimed at addressing a host of problems facing the Department of Corrections (DOC).

These were:

  • House Bill 1016: An Act to authorize the South Dakota Department of Corrections to construct a prison facility for offenders committed to the Department of Corrections in Rapid City, to make an appropriation therefor, and to declare an emergency; and
  • House Bill 1017: An Act authorizing the Department of Corrections to purchase certain real property, to contract for the design of a prison facility for offenders committed to the Department of Corrections, to make an appropriation therefor, to transfer funds to the incarceration construction fund, and to declare an emergency.

First up on the floor was 1016. With land already bought for the facility in Rapid City, this bill was more straight forward than 1017, and only had one member, Republican Rep. Mike Derby, speak on it.

Derby began by speaking about the overcrowding at the current women’s facility in Pierre, noting that a Rapid City facility is solution, as he sees it. Debry kept his remarks brief, describing what the bill would do, and asking his colleagues to support it.

A vote was held after Derby sat back down, the bill passing 66-2. Only Republicans Liz May and Marty Overweg opposed.

Overweg, as a matter of fact, opposed both bills, choosing to voice his opposition when it came time to discuss 1017.

Overweg spoke following Republican Rep. Tony Venhuizen, who asked the members to support the bill, noting Sioux Falls prison’s age and overcrowding.

Standing to speak, Overweg asked his colleagues to oppose the bill. “I’m not saying we don’t need a new prison for men,” he said, “but this is not the right way.” Overweg said that in passing 1017, the House would be providing an open checkbook, and called it ‘government gone wild.’

Speaking of his own visits with prisoners and DOC workers, Overweg told the House that none of them think a new prison is needed. Instead, he said higher pay, and more correctional officers are needed.

“Have we studied, is Sioux Falls the right place to build the new one,” Overweg asked, rhetorically. “Have we looked at land prices other places?”

This was the main format of Overweg’s opposition for the remainder of his testimony, questioning whether enough has been done to study what is needed by the state.

In the end, Overweg asked members to kill the bill so that an additional year could be taken to answer his questions.

Speaking in favor of the bill after Overweg was Republican Rep. Will Mortenson, who called the building of a new prison a ‘core obligation’ of the government. He went on to argue that the question of a new prison had been studied, and that specifics on the actual build would come next year, once land has been purchased.

Democrat Linda Duba spoke next, also in favor of the bill. She emphasized testimony made by DOC Secretary Kellie Wasko, which detailed the need for a new facility. “What we need to understand here is that the facility that we have today is not safe,” said Duba.

Following a question from Rep. May about the total cost of the facility, (Rep. Venhuizen said an exact cost is not yet known, but that DOC estimates are for between $535-550 million), Republican Tim Reisch, who previously served as Secretary of Corrections, spoke at length.

Reisch’s comments focused on the importance of building the facility in Minnehaha County, where the bulk of the inmates come from, and the responsibility of the state to build a new facility. He finished off saying that now is a time when South Dakota has the money to build a new facility, and asked the rest of the House to support the measure.

Following supportive testimony from Republicans Greg Jamison and Jess Olson, the House voted on the measure, passing it on a vote of 53-16.

Both bills will now be moved to Senate side of the Capitol for further debate.