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South Dakota ranked third for personal, economic freedom

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(The Center Square) – South Dakota is one of the top states in the country for personal and economic freedom, according to a report.

The state ranked third in the annual Freedom in the 50 States Index, which is put out by libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. The report weighs personal and economic freedoms based on over 230 state and local public policies.

South Dakota has never dipped below the top six since the 2000s and held the top spot for four years from 2006 to 2010. Its consistently strong economic performance, “excellent” fiscal policy, low state taxation, and below-average state and local debt are among the factors keeping South Dakota’s score so high.

State taxation is at 3.8%, with local tax at 3.6%, the report found. State and local debt sits at 11.8%, with a “significant” drop in debt observed since 2009, according to the report.

The main category keeping South Dakota from being even higher in the ranks is its performance for personal freedom, where it ranked 21st. But that still demonstrated improvement from its personal freedom rank in 2013 at 40th.

As for regulatory policy, South Dakota was among the best, with sound land-use freedom, eminent domain reform, and its right-to-work law. The state is also one of the best states for health insurance freedom due to few restrictions on the managed care model, the report said. South Dakota is also in the top ten for its occupational licensing freedom.

Some areas do need improvement, according to the report. One is the state’s criminal justice policies.

“South Dakota’s criminal justice policies are unduly strict from our point of view,” the authors wrote. “For its crime rate, it imprisons more than it should. However, it has improved over time, especially in 2020 and 2021. One wonders, though, how much that was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drug arrests are well above national norms. However, the victimless crime arrest rate dipped significantly from 2018 to 2019 and held in 2020, and it is part of a longer trend in the right direction.”

South Dakota was faulted for its unreformed asset forfeiture and “harsh” cannabis law, though medical marijuana was passed in 2020.

The state was given high marks for legalizing sports betting in 2020. The state was also one of the best for gun rights and passed constitutional carry in 2019, the report said.

In education, regulations on private schools and homeschooling are not as burdensome as some neighboring states and a limited private scholarship tax benefit was enacted in 2016, according to the report.

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