VEHLE: Questions, study remain on proposed criminal justice reformsAt the current rate, we’ll need to build a women’s prison in about four years and a men’s prison in about six to seven years. About 80 percent of people admitted to our prisons are for non-violent crimes. Should there be a better way to handle this situation?
By: Mike Vehle, Guest columnist
The 88th session of the Legislature opened last week. Every time I am sworn in, I nearly have to pinch myself to be sure it’s really me. It truly is an honor and privilege to serve and I thank you for your support.
The governor’s address held no huge surprises. The governor did have a new initiative; however, either he nor his aides have visited with legislative members before the session about what is called the Public Safety Improvement Act. The issues regarding it had been presented and he is receiving some bipartisan support for the concept. As always, the devil is in the details.
At the current rate, we’ll need to build a women’s prison in about four years and a men’s prison in about six to seven years. About 80 percent of people admitted to our prisons are for non-violent crimes. Should there be a better way to handle this situation?
It appears that drug courts and alcohol courts can have a positive effect on many of these people’s lives. Criminals who are drug dealers, have violent behavior problems or are a threat to society are not the subject of this discussion.
We also need to consider people who have served their time — what are we doing to make sure they can make it on the outside and do not become part of the revolving door syndrome? We will hear more as we go through the session.
The governor also talked about good stewardship, and that because we made the tough financial decisions a couple years ago, we are financially in better shape today. He talked about the need to take care of our state assets, and is asking for some onetime money to start the new Blood Run State Park.
The Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson addressed a joint session about the State of the Judiciary. He voiced his support of the Public Safety Improvement Act and expressed why the court is favoring this initiative. He also spoke of the loss of lawyers in the midsection of our state and the problems that is creating in our smaller populated towns and counties.
The technology initiative taken on by the Unified Judicial System is on track and so is the initiative to open up the courts to a camera, as about two-thirds of the media’s requests for cameras in the court room were granted.
We’ll hear more about the issue of whether to add about another 48,000 South Dakotans to the Medicaid rolls. In 2012, Medicaid already covered 144,373 unduplicated individuals. When I came to the Legislature, our share of the Medicaid bill was about 34 percent and the federal government’s share was about 66 percent.
In FY 2014, our share will be 46 percent and our share is estimated to grow to 50 percent in a couple of years. It is our state’s second-biggest expense of our general fund after education. The federal government’s incentive is to initially pay the entire costs of adding these 48,000 South Dakotans to the Medicaid rolls, and then gradually take our share of the costs to 10 percent by 2020; however, it makes no promises after 2020.
Knowing the federal government’s financial balance sheet and its inability to fix it makes many of us very nervous about depending upon them to cover their share.
In the Transportation Committee, we had the Department of Transportation, the Department of Revenue and the Division of Motor Vehicles give a presentation on their current situation and also a presentation of their department responsibilities. The Senate Transportation Committee, of which I am chairman, has seven members and five are new senators. We always have new members, but when five out of seven are new, there is a learning curve to master.
This Saturday, there is a cracker barrel at 10 a.m. at the Mitchell Technical Institute amphitheater. See you there.
Mike Vehle, a Republican from Mitchell, represents District 20 (Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties) in the South Dakota Senate.