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South Dakota lawmakers to look at bills

PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota Rep. Paul Valandra, Sicangu Lakota, listed
education funding, changes to the criminal code and a voting bill among his
priorities this year.

One bill would ask the state to appropriate more than $500,000 to help
tribal colleges cover the expense of non-benefactor students. That
controversial bill was passed three times in the 1990s, but the funding was
never distributed; its passage this year through both Republican-controlled
houses is still uncertain.

Noting that previous legislation attempting to change Class 5 and 6
felonies to misdemeanors have failed, Valandra said he has planned another
bill that would change part of the criminal code to make counties bear more
of the cost of imprisoning these types of felons.

Valandra said the new approach would not change the lower felony charges,
but would make it mandatory for the county of origin to take charge of
anyone convicted of that class felony.

"I watched the state ratchet up the criminal code with the
'get-tough-on-crime stand'; now we see a growing prison population," he

He said counties should be made responsible to bear the cost of imprisoning
any Class 5 or 6 felon.

At the heart of the matter is the increase in state prison population
because of an increase in past legislative action that toughened the
criminal code because, he said, many legislators took a tough stand on

The increased use of methamphetamine in the state has led to an increase in
the prison population. Male inmates have increased by 11 percent; female
inmates, more than 30 percent. The majority of inmates in the state prison
system are American Indian.

"A lot of Lakotas were put in prison last year. There should have been a
code revision," he said.

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Valandra said that a lot of the laws written were against the Lakota
people. In 1973, when the American Indian Movement took over Wounded Knee
-- and even before that -- laws began to be more stringent and their
sentences longer. For example, he said the only state in the nation where a
person can get life in prison for arson is South Dakota.

The Indian Child Welfare Act will show up again in the state. Introduced
two years ago, it went through two years of task force hearings. The task
force's recommendations are now before the Legislature. ICWA will go
through hearings this session.

An election bill that has been introduced may not pass court muster. The
bill is basically benign, as it deals with electronic machine voting;
however, to expedite use of the machines an emergency has been declared on
the bill. The emergency allows for the bill to be enacted immediately upon
signature by the governor.

South Dakota has just gone through a court battle over the issue of
Department of Justice pre-clearance for any election law that affects the
entire state. The state is required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
to pre-clear any election law that would impact Shannon and Todd counties,
home to the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations respectively.

Jennifer Ring, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of
the Dakotas, said she has no problem with the bill itself; her complaint is
that the emergency clause violates federal law. She told the Senate State
Affairs Committee that the ACLU would not oppose an expedited pre-clearance

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson argued that the state will
apply for expedited pre-clearance as soon as the law is passed. He wants
the emergency action so that two cities in the state can use the electronic
voting machines as a test in April.

The state believes that because of Todd and Shannon counties' requirement,
the rest of the state is not affected. Nelson said if the bill was found to
be retrogressive by Justice, it would not be implemented in either county.

That, Ring said, would violate the equal protection law, which requires
that all voters be treated equally.

The bill passed out of committee on a 5 - 2 vote.