Amid COVID-19, S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Commission might meet by teleconference

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The COVID-19 pandemic that is altering the lives of so many South Dakotans is now affecting the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission too.

Its next meeting is scheduled for April 2-3 at Good Earth State Park in rural Sioux Falls, but right now the plan calls for the eight commissioners to participate by teleconference, rather than attend.

That’s according to Jon Kotilnek. He’s the state Game, Fish and Parks Department attorney. He said that, as of mid-day Friday, the department still planned to conduct the meeting.

“We are taking appropriate measures in order to abide by all local, state, and federal requirements and CDC recommendations,” Kotilnek said, referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. President Donald Trump has urged citizens nationwide to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

The only changes the commission proposed are for elk hunting. “If the commission does not take action on these rules, they could be considered at the May commission meeting,” Kotilnek said.

That would be May 7-8 in Custer State Park, in the southern Black Hills, on the state’s western edge.

Kotilnek explained the unusual steps the department currently plans for the April meeting at Good Earth, near South Dakota’s eastern edge, so that it fits within state law.

“In order to meet statutory requirements, we would have a limited number of staff at the ‘on site’ location,” he said.

“All commissioners will be calling in on a conference call. Currently, the department is working through logistics of how to receive public testimony during the public hearing portion. Once we have a plan in place, we will notify the public how they can participate in the hearing.”

The public hearing is set for 2 p.m. CT Thursday. At the commission’s March 5-6 meeting in Pierre, the commission took testimony by telephone from citizens at GFP regional offices in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Watertown.

GFP Secretary Kelly Hepler said during the March meeting that remote testimony would become a regular feature for the commission’s future public hearings.

Kotilnek on Friday left open the possibility that the April rules hearing could be pushed back to May — or that the entire meeting might be scrapped.

Governor Kristi Noem extended her executive order Thursday directing that non-essential employees of state government under her control should work remotely through Saturday, March 28, rather than go to the government’s office sites.

Her order also keeps in place a ban against work-related travel outside South Dakota by state employees.

Meanwhile South Dakota schools will remain closed for the second week, universities are keeping students, faculty and administrators off-campus and using online courses to teach, some Internet providers are offering free broadband to students at central locations, and many businesses and local governments have closed their doors to the public or have reduced the hours they’re open.

South Dakota’s COVID-19 count through noon Friday showed 14 confirmed positive cases, including one death; 663 negative tests; and 270 tests pending.

“If the meeting is held, remote testimony will be taken,” Kotilnek said Friday. “We are currently working through some scenarios in order to determine the best method to obtain that testimony while keeping the public safe and abiding by local, state and federal requirements.”

He continued, “The department is still considering as to whether the locations identified in the public notice would or could be utilized, while still abiding by local, state and federal requirements.”

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