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New South Dakota law lifts lifetime ban after drug felonies

A judge has sentenced a Coeur d'Alene man to at least 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to fatally shooting a man during a bar fight. (Source: MGN)
A judge has sentenced a Coeur d'Alene man to at least 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to fatally shooting a man during a bar fight. (Source: MGN)(KMVT)
Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 6:19 PM CDT
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An important change in South Dakota legislation is taking effect in just a few days.

The new law is lifting a lifetime ban for those with drug felonies.

This lifetime ban goes back to 1996.

Congress put a ban on food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families, also known as TANF, for those with drug felonies.

But, states were given an option to lift the ban if they wanted-- which South Dakota did for food stamps in 2011.

Cathy Brechtelsbauer, Coordinator for Bread for the World-South Dakota, said, “So now, we’ve been left as one of 13 states that had never lifted the ban on TANF. So, this has been hanging over our heads for 24 years.”

It’s a lifetime law that is specifically aimed for those with drug felonies.

“This applies to people after they’ve done what was assigned to them by the judge. It’s just a double punishment,” said Brechtelsbauer.

But Brechtelsbauer said it affects more than those convicted, “It affects children too because everyone one of these situations has children.”

This year the state legislature passed Senate Bill 96, lifting the federal ban on TANF starting July 1st.

Jessica Cooper, a single mother of four, testified on this issue. She knows the effect of this ban first hand.

Cooper said, “I explain it as a small grace, just a small one.”

After being released from prison in 2018 for drug charges, she says not being able to rely on temporary assistance felt like being set up for failure.

“The first month out was so hard because I was constantly struggling to try to find the money. TANF would’ve been a great option. A little bit of help, you know, bus fair, even work clothes was hard,” said Cooper.

Prime senate sponsor of the Bill, Senator Reynold Nesiba says it gives people a second chance at a better life.

Brechtelsbauer said, “Maybe they won’t be turning back to a bad situation. Maybe they will be willing and able to move forward in their lives. It helps them lift a little burden so they can concentrate on being good parents.”

Cooper has been sober for three and a half years and she currently works for a non-profit in Watertown. She attributes this success to her family.

"It all goes back together to just keeping South Dakota families together,” said Cooper. “I think the only reason that I’ve done so well is my kids. This is my family, this is my purpose.”

Senator Nesiba also said, “This new law is intended to aid families, combat addiction, alleviate hunger, and encourage personal responsibility. It will provide help to keep families intact and support to stay out of the correctional system.”

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