Daugaard signs criminal justice reform: Moving his desk into the Capitol Rotunda for the occasion, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a criminal justice reform package that was his signature initiative of the 2013 legislative session.
The measure, Senate Bill 70, aims at finding prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders. If successful, it will avert the need for South Dakota to build two new prisons in the next decade.
Daugaard called the bill signing a “great day for South Dakota.”
Above: Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs a criminal justice reform bill as South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson looks on.

Daugaard signs criminal justice reform: Moving his desk into the Capitol Rotunda for the occasion, Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a criminal justice reform package that was his signature initiative of the 2013 legislative session.

The measure, Senate Bill 70, aims at finding prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders. If successful, it will avert the need for South Dakota to build two new prisons in the next decade.

Daugaard called the bill signing a “great day for South Dakota.”

Above: Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs a criminal justice reform bill as South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson looks on.

Criminal justice initiative passes, heads to governor

South Dakota’s criminal justice initiative just passed the House of Representatives 63-7, and now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk. He plans on signing it.

The seven no votes were all conservative Republicans: Reps. Brock Greenfield, Dan Kaiser, Isaac Latterell, Elizabeth May, Stace Nelson, Betty Olson and Lance Russell.

All Democrats and all but those seven Republicans voted for the bill in the House.

In the Senate, everyone voted for the bill but two conservative Republicans: Sen. Tim Begalka and Sen. David Omdahl.

Some grassroots opposition building to criminal justice initiative

If you listened to the Senate debate on the criminal justice reform (Senate Bill 70) on Thursday, some of the Republican senators had an oddly defensive tone in their speeches for a measure that has broad bipartisan support and passed 31-2.

"I’ve had good friends tell me they can’t believe I’m carrying this bill, and this is soft on crime. I disagree," said Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth.

Sen. Ried Holien, R-Watertown, repeatedly emphasized that the measure was “tough on crime.”

SB 70 “might not be a perfect bill,” he said, urging senators to not “kill a really good bill in search of a perfect one.”

Given the overwhelming support for the criminal justice initiative in the Capitol, what’s behind that tone?

Olson said lawmakers were pitching their remarks not so much to their fellow senators, who largely agree, but at the public in general. They’ve been getting a steady stream of emails from the public, upset about various aspects of the bill, he said.

The opposition isn’t overwhelming and doesn’t appear to be the result of an organized group. Instead, it seems to be a general group of grassroots conservatives with some concerns.

It’s unlikely (but not impossible) this group of conservatives will manage to defeat SB 70, given the extremely broad support for the measure from a huge range of stakeholders. So far only a handful of the most conservative lawmakers have actually voted against it, while other outspoken conservatives have stayed on board.

But it’s a dynamic worth keeping in mind as this bill heads over to the House of Representatives.

Criminal justice reform passes Senate

Amid a chorus of praise, South Dakota’s criminal justice reform package passed the state senate Thursday by an overwhelming margin.

Only two senators voted against the bill, Senate Bill 70. It’s a complex package focused on finding alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders. The goal of the bill is to slow or reverse the growth in South Dakota’s prison population, avoiding the need for building new prisons.

The bill, proposed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard with support from the state attorney general and Supreme Court, has bipartisan backing in the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson said the bill was both tough and smart on crime.

“I’ve had good friends tell me they can’t believe I’m carrying this bill, and this is soft on crime,” he said. “I disagree.”

Democratic senator Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, got emotional when urging people to support the bill.

In his 14 years in the Legislature, Bradford said, “to me, this is the most outstanding thing that’s been done, bar any.”

The only votes against the bill, which passed 31-2, came from Sens. Tim Begalka and David Omdahl, both Republicans. Neither senator spoke against the bill during the floor discussion.

SB 70 now heads to the House of Representatives.

The criminal justice initiative bill has been filed

The centerpiece of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s State of the State speech, the criminal justice initiative, has been filed into law.

That means we can now call it Senate Bill 70, rather than the unwieldy “criminal justice initiative.”

You can read the text here.

The bill, fittingly for its title, has 70 co-sponsors, including leaders of both political parties.

Senate President Pro Tempore Corey Brown says the bill will be headed to the Senate State Affairs Committee. That committee has top legislative leaders on it and handles a lot of the highest-profile pieces of legislation. The other obvious option for the CJI would have been the judiciary committee.

The Legislature begins

Today, the previews end and the lawmaking starts.

Well, the lawmaking probably actually only starts in earnest tomorrow. Today two significant things will happen:

  • lawmakers will elect their official leaders, such as Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate. These decisions have been made in advance, but the Speaker vote in particular could be interesting. Brian Gosch will almost certainly be the next Speaker, but will dissident Republicans speak or vote against him in what’s usually a litmus test of party-line support?
  • Gov. Dennis Daugaard will give his State of the State address, laying out the condition of the state and setting out some priorities. Spoiler: There will be a lot of comparisons to neighboring states, and South Dakota will come out ahead. Read a preview here, and learn more about his policy centerpiece, the criminal justice initiative, here.

Also, each day in the session, I’ll be recording a video interview with a lawmaker, lobbyist or official, talking about an issue of the day. (Perhaps by the 38th video I’ll finally be semi-comfortable in front of the cameras.) The first, a legislative preview with Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, is available to watch here.

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