Senate Panel Deadlocked Over Plan For State Lawmakers To Study Prison Alternatives For Drug Crimes

Capitol News Bureau
KELO jail prison bars GENERIC

A panel could vote again this week on whether the Executive Board for the South Dakota Legislature should name a task force to look at different ways to punish people convicted of drug crimes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked 3-3 Thursday. Excused for the vote was Senator Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican who is a lawyer and a former state’s attorney.

He could break the tie if the others continue to hold their positions.

The panel meets again Tuesday.

Testifying in support of SCR 7 last week were lobbyists for associations representing the state’s attorneys, criminal defense lawyers and county sheriffs.

No one testified against the plan that comes from Senator Craig Kennedy, a Yankton Democrat and a former state’s attorney.

Joining Kennedy in voting for the bill were Senator Lynne DiSanto, a Box Elder Republican, and Senator Art Rusch, a Vermillion Republican and retired state circuit judge.

Voting no were Senator Lance Russell, a Hot Springs Republican and a former state’s attorney, as well as Senator Stace Nelson, a Fulton Republican, and Senator Jim Stalzer, a Sioux Falls Republican.

Among the Senate’s co-sponsors are Republican leaders Kris Langer of Dell Rapids and Jim Bolin of Canton and Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission.

The resolution notes South Dakota is the only state in the nation where conviction for ingestion of a controlled substance is a felony crime.

The resolution estimates that $50 million could be saved by the state Department of Corrections over a 10-year period by changing the crime to a misdemeanor.

Kennedy, the Democratic assistant leader, wants 15 people from the state and county levels appointed to the task force.

The group would consider effects including on county jails. It would make recommendations to the Legislature and Governor Kristi Noem before the start of the 2020 legislative session.

Meanwhile, the same Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t scheduled a hearing yet for state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s proposal to repeal presumptive probation for lower-level felonies including drug crimes.

The Legislature adopted presumptive probation six years ago in part to hold down growth in South Dakota’s prison system.

Presumptive probation suggests state judges should sentence class-six and class-five felons to zero time in state prison unless there are special circumstances.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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