PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A proposal that would require violent offenders to serve most or all of their prison sentences is moving closer to final approval by the South Dakota Legislature.

The House Judiciary Committee has endorsed SB-146 on a 7-6 vote, with Republican Rep. Jon Hansen, the panel’s chair and a co-sponsor, breaking the tie.

However, should the bill get through the House of Representatives, it must return to the Senate for consideration of changes made Wednesday, first by its sponsors, Republican Sen. Brent Hoffman and Republican Rep. Sue Peterson, and then by the House committee.

Senators voted 32-3 for it February 8.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley and lobbyists for the county sheriffs, police chiefs and state’s attorneys organizations called for its approval at the House hearing. Lobbyists for the defense lawyers and trial lawyers associations and ACLU-South Dakota opposed it.

The legislation would allow the sentencing judge to suspend part of the sentence. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles would then be required to supervise the offender for the remainder of the sentence.

“This bill takes certain violent crimes and says what you see is what you’re going to get,” said Grant Flynn, representing the South Dakota State’s Attorneys Association.

Justin Bell, representing the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, warned that it would further burden already-overcrowded state prisons. He said they already are at about 150% of capacity.

Notable for their absence from the witness microphone were the state Department of Corrections and the state courts system. Republican Rep. Tim Reisch, a former state secretary of corrections, asked Hoffman why no one from DOC testified as a supporter.

Hoffman said he worked with the current corrections secretary, Kellie Wasko, on all four drafts of the bill. Hoffman said he couldn’t explain why no one from the department was present. He pointed out that the parole board would have responsibility if a judge suspended any of the sentence.

Republican Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, another co-sponsor, asked whether the bill will be a deterrent to violent criminals. Hoffman said perhaps. “But I’m not going to make any assumptions about human behavior,” he said. “And so I answer in an affirmative yes, but it’s a subjective opinion.” 

Reisch said studies have shown that longer sentences don’t serve as a deterrent. Instead, they’re thinking about how to not get caught — if they’re thinking at all, he said.

“It’s a one-size fits-all policy, and it’s flawed,” Reisch said. He added, “There’s probably something we can do out there, but I don’t think this bill is the answer.”

The official fiscal note estimates the cost at an additional $21 million for state government.

Republican Rep. Scott Odenbach supported the bill: “When you got to look at both sides of the situation, I find what the A-G (Jackley) said very persuasive.” 

Republican Rep. Mike Stevens said the legislation changes the system “big time.” He voted against it.

“To call this a truth in sentencing bill, it really isn’t that,” Stevens said. “You know, throwing away the key is not a new idea. It’s an old idea.”

Fitzgerald called for the bill’s approval. “I have always thought that the core obligation of the Legislature was to keep South Dakota safe and protect our citizens.”  

Democrat Rep. Peri Pourier said the root of many violent crimes was the underlying substance abuse and addiction. She preferred that the $20 million be spent instead on treatment. “They would have never committed the crime if they weren’t under the influence of addiction,” she said.