Note: This story has been updated.
PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) –The governor whose administration runs South Dakota’s overburdened state prisons will soon have to decide whether she wants violent criminals to spend most or all of their sentences in them.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday gave approval 53-17 to a concept that has the support of the state attorney general, county prosecutors and the police and sheriff’s associations. The bill now returns to the Senate for a decision whether to agree with some minor changes made by the House Judiciary Committee.
Where Governor Kristi Noem stands on the issue isn’t clear. Her Department of Corrections didn’t testify on the bill. Neither did the state’s court system.
The prime sponsor of SB-146, Republican Sen. Brent Hoffman, watched the debate Tuesday from the rear of the House chamber. After the House vote was displayed, he received congratulations, got a hug from Republican Rep. Julie Auch, and left through the south side-door.
The Senate had previously approved the bill 32-3. Its lead House sponsor, Republican Rep. Sue Peterson, said Tuesday that 13 officer-involved shootings occurred last year in South Dakota. “This bill changes things,” she said. “Stop the revolving door.”
The legislation would affect 23 felonies. House members rejected an amendment offered by Republican Rep. Tim Reisch, a past state secretary of corrections, that Peterson said would “gut” the bill. Reisch called it “a flawed bill.”
The bill got through the chamber despite opposition from House Republican leader Will Mortenson. Part of the answer, he said, was “more police, not more prison guards.”
Republican Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, whose husband was a career prosecutor before winning election to a circuit judgeship last year, urged the bill’s passage. “The current system isn’t working,” she said.
Said Republican Rep. Greg Jamison, “It stops the revolving door for violent offenders.”
Republican Rep. Mike Stevens warned that the change would fill up South Dakota’s already overcrowded prisons. “Is this change necessary? Absolutely not,” he said. “This is a recipe for trouble.”