New loophole for guns and ammo didn’t keep S.D. governor from expanding emergency act

Capitol News Bureau

(AP Photo/James Nord)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — An amendment specifically added for the National Rifle Association on the last day of the 2020 legislative session further protects gun rights and places further limits on the authority a governor of South Dakota has in a time of disaster, war, act of terrorism or emergency.

Governor Kristi Noem said Friday she signed HB 1296 into law because it would still be beneficial. Her original version was one of the bills she had lawmakers introduce for her March 30.

The NRA amendment established a new section of law, known as 34-48A-5.1, that creates a detailed list of weapon-related loopholes in the governor’s power to suspend laws, rules or ordinances in time of disaster, terrorist attack or emergency.

The amendment now specifically exempts firearms, ammunition, reloading equipment, and other personal weapons.

Also newly exempted are pistol permits, places that lawfully sell or service firearms, and shooting ranges.

The amendment also lets a party seek damages, injunctive relief, or other relief in circuit court.

The law previously said only that nothing “may be construed to authorize the taking of firearms… without the consent of the owner.”

The NRA amendment and some unrelated language were added to the bill on a 55-11 vote in the House, with a mixture of Republicans and Democrats opposing the changes. The final version of the bill won approval from the House 62-4 and from the Senate 26-9.

The NRA issued a news release March 31 praising Noem for signing the bill. The legislation carried language that had it take effect upon her approval. Most legislation that has been passed takes effect July 1. The legislation also carries language saying it is repealed July 1, 2021.

The NRA release quoted Brian Gosch, a former South Dakota House Republican leader from Rapid City, who now works as a lobbyist for the gun-rights group. Gosch was in room 414 of the Capitol, where the House leaders were meeting, at the start of the final day of session.

“With law enforcement and state resources stretched incredibly thin, it’s more important than ever for authorities to recognize every law-abiding American’s right to self-defense and to keep and bear arms,” Gosch said in the release. “The people of South Dakota are safer today with Gov. Noem’s signature on HB 1296.”

Most legislators stayed away from the Capitol that final day and instead participated via technology, because of the fear of infection from the coronavirus COVID-19. One lawmaker later died of illness related to COVID-19.

Representative Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican who is a cousin of Brian Gosch, added the amendment during consideration in the House of Representatives. Brian Gosch didn’t testify. Spencer Gosch specifically described it to House members as an NRA amendment.

Spencer Gosch didn’t respond in recent weeks to several emails sent to his legislative address and a Facebook message about the amendment.

The governor’s policy director, Maggie Seidel, responding to the original email that was sent to Spencer Gosch, said he discussed the amendment with the governor’s chief legal counsel, Tom Hart, and was told by Hart the governor was “ambivalent” about it.

Brian Gosch was one of a handful of people identified last week to a Senate investigating committee as attending a house party near the Capitol on the night of March 30 and the early morning of March 31.

Two top senators, Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids and president pro tem Brock Greenfield of Clark, admitted drinking at the house early March 31.

The Senate panel was told Brian Gosch also was there, along with several other lobbyists and Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden.

Langer and Greenfield later returned to the Capitol and conducted further official business, including participating in House-Senate negotiations and final passage of a bill.

The Senate panel voted 9-0 a week ago to admonish Langer and Greenfield.

Langer and Greenfield each admitted to the panel April 24 they had been drinking. Greenfield previously told the rest of the Senate on March 31 they hadn’t imbibed.

None of the participants who reportedly were at the house — Brian Gosch, Langer, Greenfield, Rhoden or the other lobbyists — was questioned by the investigating panel.

Noem, a former legislator and U.S. House member, chose Rhoden, a long-time legislator, to be her running mate in 2018 on the Republican ticket. One of his constitutional duties is to serve as Senate president.

The lieutenant governor ruled that Senator Phil Jensen, a Rapid City Republican, was out of order, when Jensen called for an immediate investigation into Langer’s behavior, as the Senate was wrapping up its work March 31.

Noem answered several questions Friday about the NRA amendment and the situation.

“Well, if it was something that had originated with me, I would stand here and defend it, but it was an amendment that came during the legislative process, and I did choose to sign the bill with it on it,” she said.

She added, “The legislators weighed in and had debate about that issue when that bill was passed, and when it was put on my desk I made the decision to sign it, recognizing what the impacts were of it, but still the fact that we felt it would be a beneficial piece of legislation to have in statute, to allow us some flexibility during those times.”

Asked whether she had talked to Rhoden about his presence at the house, Noem said, “The lieutenant governor and I talk all the time, but that issue, I’m not going to weigh in on.”

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