By Dana Hess
Community News Service
PIERRE — Frustration with the state’s current non-meandering waters law was evident on Tuesday during a discussion about a bill that would remove the sunset date from the law that was passed during a special session last year.
Non-meandering waters are lakes created by heavy snow and rain in the 1990s. A Supreme Court decision last year called on the Legislature to make rules determining the rights of sportsmen and landowners with regard to the use of non-meandering waters. When it passed, that legislation had a sunset date of June 30, 2018. HB1081 would remove the sunset date entirely.
Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, said any piece of legislation is subject to a sunset whenever the Legislature decides to act on it. Removal of the sunset date, Cammack said, would allow the Legislature to more easily concentrate on those areas where changes may be needed.
Kelly Hepler, secretary of the Game, Fish and Parks Department, said the inclusion of a sunset date has made it tough to negotiate for access with landowners who have non-meandering waters on their property.
John Simpson, a sportsman from Pierre, said he was reluctantly speaking in favor of lifting the sunset because lawmakers had talked about addressing problems in the original bill during the current session.
“None of that has been addressed yet this session,” Simpson said.
Sharing Simpson’s frustration was Paul Lepisto, a lobbyist for the S.D. Division of the Izaak Walton League of America, who spoke against passage of the bill.
“We felt that changes would be made in the bill,” Lepisto said. “Our disappointment is quite high.”
Rep. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, called the current law a “huge success” but said it made it tough for Game, Fish and Parks to work with landowners, when “there’s a sunset looming on the horizon.”
Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said she was against passage of the bill because of the Legislature has failed to adequately address property rights.
If the sunset was keeping some landowners from negotiating with Game, Fish and Parks, “I say shame on them,” Soholt said, noting that they should be willing to move the process along, even with a sunset.
The bill passed out of committee on a 7-2 vote. It previously was endorsed in the House on a 51-12 vote.
A similar bill, SB24, which moves the sunset date from June 30 to July 1, 2021, has been endorsed by the Senate on a 26-9 vote.
The existence of two bills that address the sunset was the cause of some concern when HB1081 was discussed in the Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said some members have backed both bills. “I’m not sure how we should take that,” Solano said.
Supporting the removal of the sunset clause would “give certainty to the foot soldiers of Game, Fish and Parks,” according to Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.
Since the plan for the original non-meandering waters bill was passed with a sunset clause, that’s what it should have, according to Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City.
“We should go back to the plan,” Partridge said.
Soothing the hurt feelings that have come about because of the non-meandering waters issue will take longer than three years to overcome, said Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City.
“I want to keep the waters open for recreation and this bill does it,” Wiik said.
The bill was passed by the Senate on a 20-15 vote. It now goes to the governor for his signature.