As I mentioned in my last report, the governor was considering calling a special session of the Legislature to deal with medical marijuana. However, the Legislature was unable to agree on what should be done during the regular session and the senators felt that it was unlikely that a special session would change that.
One of the things that was done during the 2021 session was to establish an interim committee to study marijuana issues. The hope is that the interim committee will help us come to some sort of agreement about what should be done about marijuana in South Dakota in light of IM 26 and Constitutional Amendment A, so that we can have a solution ready for the 2022 Legislature.
That Marijuana Interim Study Committee has now been established and I have been appointed as one of the Senate members to serve on the committee. The executive board of the Legislative Research Council made the decision as to who would be appointed to the committee. The Committee will consist of eight senators and 16 representatives. The Committee has been directed to “… get unbiased (or both sides) sources of information to create the best system that works for our state. This study will address both recreational and medical marijuana.” The committee plans on meeting before the end of May to get started on the study about what should be done about marijuana in South Dakota.
Most of the legislators are assigned to various committees that meet during the rest of the year. I have been the Senate Republican representative on the Corrections Commission for several years. The Corrections Commission was created by state law to assist the Department of Corrections in examining criminal justice issues and make suggestions as to how to address problems in the corrections system. The statutes also provide that none of the prison industries can be expanded without the permission of the Corrections Commission.
The Corrections Commission met in Pierre on March 30. We learned that the total prison population in South Dakota has gone down 584 in the past year. South Dakota’s total inmate population at the end of Fiscal Year 2018 was 4001 but as of February of 2021 it was 3,262 (2,840 men and 422 women). There are also 3,373 individuals on parole. It is uncertain whether this decline is due to COVID-19 and whether it is a permanent decrease.
At the meeting the Corrections Commission discussed the Legislature’s appropriation of about $900,000 to purchase property adjacent to the women’s prison in Pierre. In addition to room for possible future expansion of the prison, there are buildings on the property which will allow the institution of several new programs. We also received a report about how the prisons handled the COVID problem. Prisoners who tested positive had to be kept in isolation and fed inside their cells. That was extremely difficult, particularly in Sioux Falls which has multiple tiers of cells and no elevators. As a result, food had to be hand-carried to each cell.
The Department of Corrections has gone to 12 hour shifts which have resulted in a 41% decline in overtime costs but staffing is always a problem at the prisons. There was a 22% turnover last year. This is primarily the result of big county jails that are willing to pay jailers more than the state can afford to pay.
On April 27, I attended the dedication of the new penitentiary Health Services Building in Sioux Falls. This was built with approximately $7 million that the legislature appropriated several years ago. The health care facility was badly needed as the prison has an obligation to provide health care to prisoners but the prior facilities were crowded and unsafe. The new facility is unusual. It is like a clinic but with multiple high security features in place to make sure that the staff is safe.
In addition to these committees or commissions that will meet during the summer, I also serve on the Mental Health Procedures Oversight Council and the Code Commission which will also be meeting.