PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Tuesday was a rough morning for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department and the governor at the hands of some state senators.
Sportsmen’s groups and former commission chairs from both major political parties helped defeat legislation supported by Republican Governor Kristi Noem and her GFP that would have opened the way for her to put more Republicans on the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission.
The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee refused 3-4 to endorse HB 1115, then killed it 6-1. Current law says no more than four of the eight commissioners may be from the same political party. Senator John Wiik wanted to change it to say, “All of the game, fish and parks commissioners may not be members of the same political party.”
Two seats that Democrats held have been open for several months.
Opponents who testified included former commission chairs John Cooper, Christine Hamilton and Ken Barker, as well as South Dakota Wildlife Federation president Zach Hunke and Izaak Walton League’s South Dakota coordinator Paul Lepisto.
Supporters of the change included two somewhat newer groups, South Dakota Landowner and Outfitter Alliance and South Dakota Upland Outfitters Association, represented by lobbyists Doug Abraham and Grace Beck.
Senate Democrats leader Troy Heinert said adopting Wiik’s amendment, or the even-looser version that House Speaker Spencer Gosch originally proposed that wouldn’t have placed any political-party restrictions on appointees, would have produced the same result: A commission with seven or eight Republicans and one or no independent or Democrat.
Heinert said the combined number of registered voters who are independent or Democrat was still greater than the Republicans’ total. Republicans however control every statewide elected office as well as 32 of 35 Senate seats and 62 of 70 House seats.
Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee members overwhelmingly rejected another bill backed by the governor and the department, HB 1140, that would have restricted GFP conservation officers from going onto private land in most instances without permission from the landowner or lessee. The House had passed it 41-28.
The Senate Ag panel unanimously endorsed a third bill backed by the governor and the department, HB 1111, that would prohibit GFP conservation officers from seizing “any dog, gun, seine, net, boat, light, or other instrumentality unlawfully used or held with intent to use in pursuing, taking, attempting to take, concealing, or disposing of any such game bird, game animal, or fish.”
Kevin Robling, the governor’s interim GFP secretary, told the committee that such items could still be taken and held as evidence to assist in prosecution. The House had passed it 68-0.