Senate Judiciary chairman rips Noem administration over delay on data, then apologizes because he was wrong

Capitol News Bureau

Senator Lance Russell.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Senator Lance Russell launched criticism Thursday against Governor Kristi Noem and several of her agencies for allegedly slowing the Legislature’s process, but he later backtracked and apologized to Noem’s budget office because he was wrong.

The Hot Springs Republican chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that intended to hear from state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg on SB 6 about presumptive probation.

But the committee didn’t have a prison impact statement from the Legislative Research Council that state law requires.

“We can’t under our rules even consider the bill until such time we have a cost estimate,” Russell said.

The Legislature’s Joint Rules in section 6C-2 requires that a bill be deferred until a fiscal note has been done.

The senator apologized to Ravnsborg — the two had competed in 2018 for the Republican nomination for attorney general — and put the the Republican governor and her administration on notice “they better cooperate” in getting information to the Legislative Research Council.

But three of the top officials from the governor’s office said Friday afternoon that Russell had erred, rather than Noem.

According to Liza Clark, the governor’s commissioner of finance and management, her office provided information to LRC on January 10 for the estimate and followed up with more information January 24.

Clark, accompanied by policy director Maggie Seidel and aide Tony Venhuizen, said Russell later apologized to her office for his mistake.

Russell had said during the morning hearing that an incident happened last year, when Ravnsborg wanted to repeal presumptive probation. Russell said the impact note came from Noem’s administration on the last possible day.

Presumptive probation allows circuit judges to sentence lower-level felons to zero time in prison.

Even though state prisons have been full for years, Noem’s administration has followed the same line as the Daugaard administration: State government can’t afford to construct and staff new prisons.

The state Department of Corrections operates the state prisons and is directly controlled by the governor. The governor also oversees the state Bureau of Finance and Management that handles budget numbers.

Ravnsborg’s latest bill proposes more restrictions when judges couldn’t use presumptive probation.

Russell noted Ravnsborg had filed the bill before the legislative session opened January 14.

“This is unacceptable,” Russell said about what he thought was the Noem administration’s delay.

Russell then warned the law requiring the prison statement could be changed if the situation didn’t improve.

The committee has three meetings left before the deadline to move legislation to the floor of the chamber where the bill originated.

Russell, who’s been a legislator 12 years, has been a frequent critic of policies followed by the Noem, Daugaard and Rounds administrations.

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