Legislative Highlights 07-03-13

Posted July 1, 2013 at 3:47 pm


I am writing my column this week on the Joint Appropriations summer tour that I had the privilege of participating in as a member of that committee. The tour gives each of the Senate and House committee members along with certain Legislative Research staff an opportunity to see first-hand where the state’s financial resources are being utilized along with future needs. Even though the legislative hearing process presentations during the session are excellent, there is nothing like seeing each entity first-hand and being able to gain further knowledge especially since the sites visited involve millions of dollars annually of state expenditure. This year’s tour was over a three day period during the last week of June. It included visits to Yankton, Vermillion, Sioux Falls, and Brookings. The summer tour targets a different region of the state each year.

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We started in Yankton where we toured the Human Services Center (HSC). The site was established in 1879 by Territorial Governor Howard. Gov. Howard, at his own expense, moved two vacant buildings to the site to start the center. In 1991, Governor Mickelson ordered a study of the site to determine whether the existing buildings could be upgraded for improved patient treatment or if new facilities should be constructed. The decision was made by the 1992 Legislature to proceed with building new facilities on the north end of the grounds and this was completed in 1996.

Over the years, studies have been completed to determine other uses and options for the vacant buildings, but due to the outdated structures, poor condition, and expense of rehabbing the buildings, no viable options were found. In 2012, Governor Daugaard assigned a team to do an extensive evaluation of the campus. The Governor brought to the 2013 Legislature his recommendation to expend six million dollars for the removal of 13 buildings (of the current 33 buildings) and multiple underground tunnels on the Center site. The Governor’s request received legislative approval and is scheduled to be completed over three phases. The six million dollars does include an estimated 1.2 million dollars for asbestos and an amount for mold removal. The expanse of the 13 buildings to be torn down would occupy four acres and most buildings are several stories high. Three vacant structures will be saved, the most significant one being the historical Mead (Meade) Building which features a large marble staircase. The state will enter into a long term lease/purchase agreement with the Yankton Historical Society for the Mead (Meade) Building which has been authorized by the 2013 Legislature. The society will be responsible for raising the millions of dollars necessary to restore the building and for future expense to operate it as the Dakota Territory Museum.

HSC is a licensed specialty hospital with a total capacity of 284 beds in the seven different specialty services provided. The center serves residents of the state ranging from adolescents to geriatrics. In fiscal year 2012, there were a total of 1,992 persons admitted to the facility with stays ranging from 11 days through the whole year. The HSC facility is a 24-7 facility that requires one on one staffing models for many of their patients they serve and thus a total of 566 full time equivalent staff. Of the patients admitted, less than 20% are voluntary and more than 80% are involuntary. The operating budget for the center is $45,565,993 for fiscal 2013. That would break down to an operating cost of $439.57 per bed per day. As you can see, it is an extremely expensive service for our state to support, but without a doubt, a very important and needed service.

My future columns will continue the Appropriations Committee tour and will give you the state’s fiscal year end update which concludes on June 30th. Thank you for your interest in state government. You may contact me at dickwerner_5@hotmail.com or by calling me at 350-1371.

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The Executive Board of the State of South Dakota’s Legislature selected two topics for special interim studies this summer and fall. They are domestic abuse and K-12 education funding. Because I have served on the House Judiciary Committee for the past five years and have sponsored several bills dealing with domestic abuse, I was selected to serve on the 2013 Domestic Abuse Interim Committee.

Our scope of study is to be a comprehensive review of domestic abuse in South Dakota. The focus of this study is to include:

A review of current state and federal regulations;

An examination of the effectiveness of state policies and programs with respect to domestic abuse;

A study of the prevalence of domestic abuse across the state, including related crimes; and

A discussion of potential options with respect to domestic abuse statutes in South Dakota.

Our first meeting was held in Pierre on June 17th. We began our discussions with a history of domestic abuse in South Dakota. Committee members learned that until 1871 domestic abuse was essentially protected under law. Basically husbands had the legal authority to chastise their wives. Wives were simply regarded as property. The legal authority to chastise wives in South Dakota was lifted in 1871, however domestic abuse was generally overlooked.

During the 1900’s domestic abuse was legally regarded as a “private family issue”. In fact, many domestic abuse cases were transferred to civil family courts rather than being tried in criminal courts. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and 1970’s with the Women’s Movement that domestic abuse was recognized as a worldwide problem. During these years domestic abuse was no longer just a “private family issue”; it became a crime. The Women’s Movement precipitated a worldwide attitude change regarding domestic abuse. In the 1990’special protections for victims of domestic abuse and protocols to handle these cases evolved and were eventually implemented nationwide.

Just exactly what is Domestic Abuse? Domestic abuse is generally defined as one person trying to dominate and control another person in an intimate relationship or marriage or a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another. In addition, domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. These behaviors include, but are not limited to, intimidating, manipulating, humiliating, isolating, terrorizing, coercing, threatening, blaming, or injuring an intimate partner. In South Dakota domestic abuse is not a separate crime, but a subset of a crime that attaches to an offense based on the relationship between the offender and the victim. This crime subset triggers a specific protocol for managing a situation and a case that is aimed at providing protection to a victim during the time the case is being investigated and/or prosecuted.

For the past two years the South Dakota Senate and House of Representatives deadlocked in defining various persons who should be covered by domestic abuse protections in our state laws. During the 2012 Session Senate Bill 141 attempted to expand the legal definition of the term, domestic abuse. And in 2013 Session Senate Bill 147 was an act to revise certain provisions relating to domestic abuse and protection orders. Basically the split ensued over the issue of whether or not same-sex couples should be included in the definition of domestic abuse.

For many years I have been directly involved with protecting men, women and children in my community from the crime of domestic abuse . Our next Domestic Abuse panel meeting will be on August 1st in Pierre. If you wish to testify or attend the meeting, please feel free to contact me at (605) 325-9862 or peggygibson@hotmail.com.

Legislative Highlights

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