Lawmakers to talk presumptive probation, campus free speech
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers plan to take up bills this week to end presumptive probation, promote “intellectual diversity” on college campuses and target an activities association policy for transgender student athletes.
Here’s a look at the agenda after lawmakers return Tuesday to the Capitol:
A bill to reverse South Dakota’s presumptive probation policy for some lower-level felonies is set for debate Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposal is a top priority for new Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
Presumptive probation is credited with helping avert expensive prison population growth, but critics say it ties judges’ hands. It was part of a 2013 Republican-led justice overhaul.
The package former Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard and other officials championed included presumptive probation for some nonviolent crimes — including drug possession and ingestion — in the two lowest classes of felonies.
A 2016 report from the Urban Institute found presumptive probation and other changes played a major role in avoiding growth in the state prison population, and the latest state analysis credits the overhaul with saving taxpayers more than $30 million.
Ravnsborg has said ending the practice would give a “formidable and necessary tool back to our prosecutors and our courts.” Opponents of his bill include local chapters of the ACLU and Americans for Prosperity.
GOP Gov. Kristi Noem said last month that she hadn’t decided if she would sign the measure into law. Noem said then that presumptive probation has been described to her as frustrating, but she doesn’t want to be in the “business of building new prisons and jails.”
TRANSGENDER STUDENT ATHLETES
A House panel is set to hear a bill taking aim again at the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s policy that lets transgender students play on the athletic team that matches their gender identity. A Senate panel killed a similar bill last month.
The measure before the House Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday would require a student’s sex to be determined by their birth certificate or an association physical exam form.
Association Executive Director Dan Swartos has said a “very small number” of transgender students participate with the exemption. Supporters in the Senate argued the bill was necessary to ensure fair competition. Critics contended it would harm transgender students.
House lawmakers are scheduled to debate a pared-down measure seeking to promote “intellectual diversity” on college campuses.
The bill set for floor discussion would designate publicly accessible outdoor areas of state universities as available for expressive activity, prohibit officials from discriminating against student organizations based on their expression, and require reporting to the governor, regents and legislators.
The public reports would require information including instances in which free expression is disrupted, attempts to block a speaker and investigations into students based on their speech.
Significant changes to the bill come after Noem said she met with the sponsor to discuss it. The new version doesn’t contain previously proposed requirements for students, including U.S. history and government courses and scoring at least 85 percent on the U.S. citizenship test.
The Board of Regents, university presidents and student representatives opposed the bill in its earlier form.
A measure to put a proposed casino complex in Yankton to a statewide vote is set to be debated on the Senate floor this week.
Kasi Haberman, Convention and Visitor’s Bureau director in Yankton, told a Senate panel last week that the Port Yankton casino and entertainment project is an effort to drive tourism for the city and state.
But Native American tribes in Nebraska and South Dakota object to the plan. Yankton Sioux Tribe Vice Chairman Jason Cooke told the committee that the tribe’s casino employs people and helps support programming including education.
Thelma Thomas is general manager of the Santee Sioux Nation’s Ohiya Casino and Resort in Nebraska. She said the casino market in the area is already saturated with many casinos very close to Yankton.
If passed, the measure would direct revenues after expenses to helping South Dakota veterans and economic development and historic restoration in Yankton.
A similar measure failed in the chamber last year. Supporters could gather signatures to put the plan on the ballot.
A new early learning advisory council would collect data from early childhood education programs in South Dakota under a bill scheduled for debate Wednesday in the House State Affairs Committee.
The panel established by Democratic Rep. Erin Healy’s bill would conduct a statewide assessment on the quality and availability of early childhood education and development programs, identify opportunities and barriers to collaboration and make recommendations to boost participation in early childhood education programs. The group would also identify potential new funding sources that could be used to expand the early learning opportunities available in South Dakota.
“This is something that we must focus on in our state. We haven’t done enough in the state of South Dakota to make sure that all children have access to Pre-K,” Healy said.
A priority for Democrats, such legislation has failed in past sessions.
The full Senate is to debate a bill this week that would bar public universities and technical schools from restricting people’s ability to carry guns on campus. The measure faces opposition from student officials, the Board of Regents and the Board of Technical Education.
Jordan Mason, political director at South Dakota Gun Owners, recently told a Senate panel that the bill would give students a “fighting chance to defend themselves.”
But University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring said allowing guns at the university could make students, staff and faculty fearful of coming to campus and may result in injuries and deaths.
Regents’ policy prohibits firearms on campus with some exceptions. Such legislation has failed previously at the Capitol.