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Regional jails bill dies in House

A bill allowing municipalities and counties to join together to build regional jails has died in the South Dakota House of Representatives. That final vote was taken on Thursday, March 2.

Senate Bill 74 has had a long journey. It came out of an interim committee that met several times last year and heard hours of testimony to find solutions to a serious shortage of county jails.

But just as funding was a sticking point before the summer study, it was still the major problem after all the studying was done.

SB 74 sought to allow counties to join together in regional jail authorities to share facilities and expenses.

Testimony during interim committee meetings indicated voters rarely agree to a property tax increase for jails.

In the last amended bill, there were proposals to get around that problem.

House Speaker Hugh Bartels explained how it worked.

“When the county commission votes to join the authority, and the agreement will be written and there will be a maximum tax levy for that county in the agreement, and the vote to join the authority would be referrable at that point,” he said.

The last version of the bill allowed jail authorities to levy up to 90 cents per thousand dollars of property value “in addition to all other levies authorized by law.” That exempted that extra levy from property tax limits put in place in 1997.

In the last House hearing, Rep. Marty Overweg said he wanted to find a way to help counties with jail shortages, but he could not vote for this bill.

“Whether we’re building jails or building whatever, we cannot forget one thing: we’re not smarter than the people that elected us here,” he said. “And you can’t give authority to people to raise taxes on our citizens without the citizens having a vote.”

Overweg said allowing local officials to incur debt, sell bonds, and raise taxes without first giving the people the opportunity to vote on it is un-American.

He replied to the proponents who argued that the bill gives counties local control.

“You talk about local control? I love local control,” he said. “But the voters are the real local control.”

The Department of Revenue also opposed this bill in committee hearings because it created a new tax, and because all other functions in the bill can already be accomplished under current law.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.