Butte,County, South Dakota Courthouse

Butte County courthouse in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Chief Justice Steven Jensen says $5 million is needed to improve security at the state's courthouses. 

(The Center Square) – South Dakota’s chief justice wants lawmakers to prioritize salary increases for state employees during this year’s legislative session.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen made his comments Wednesday during his state of the judiciary address. He cited wage and inflation pressures as the primary reason for state employee salary increases.

“These wage pressures are real and do not appear to be temporary,” Jensen said. “When the Supreme Court began putting our budgeting plan together earlier this year, we heard a common theme from every circuit. They said, ‘We’re having a difficult time finding qualified applicants and we’re losing good people to higher paying jobs.’ ”

Jensen told legislators he supports Gov. Kristi Noem’s budget proposal for a 6% cost of living increase for all state employees, calling it a “significant step” toward making pay more competitive for judicial staff.

“It is imperative that we take care of our existing staff if we expect to maintain excellence within the courts,” Jensen said.

The Unified Judicial System (UJS) is asking for $5 million to improve courthouse security statewide. The one-time funds would be spent on upgrades such as security doors, ballistic glass and other protections, Jensen said. When divided among the state’s 66 courthouses, the $5 million would mean about $75,000 per location.

“Some courthouses may not have any need for upgrades while others may need significantly more than $75,000 in upgrades,” Jensen said. “The UJS will develop criteria for these grants so that the funds are all used for security enhancements and there is fidelity and accountability for all funds used.”

The UJS began developing a statewide security plan at the beginning of 2021, according to Jensen. Part of the plan includes creating local security committees for each courthouse. Jensen said there is currently an effort to create pilot county security committees for one courthouse in each of the seven circuits in the state.