By the barest margin, the state House of Representatives last week gave its approval to legislation that would allow more special duck hunting licenses for a special group of non-residents.

To be eligible, they must have been born in South Dakota or previously lived and hunted in South Dakota.

Further, they would have to be sponsored for the special licenses by close family members who still make their homes in South Dakota, and they would have to hunt with those family members.

The family connection would need to be as a mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandparent, grandchild, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law or mother-in-law.

House members voted 36-32 in favor. The 36 yes votes are the bare minimum for a bill to pass in the 70-member House. The Senate takes up the measure next.

But because Gov. Dennis Daugaard opposes the bill, as shown by the work of Game, Fish and Parks Department personnel lobbying to defeat it, the bill might be already dead.

Overcoming a governor’s veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, and the 36 yes votes in the House is far short of that threshold.

The House debate stretched past 50 minutes. By the end, there was a mass retreat by 19 of the bill’s co-sponsors and nearly unanimous opposition from House Democrats.

The legislation, HB 1185, now moves to the Senate where the fight promises to be just as intense and difficult for both sides.

The bill’s prime sponsor is Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron. He describes the legislation’s purpose as an avenue to bring more former South Dakotans back to enjoy hunting and help the economy.

Opponents, led by the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, see Werner’s bill as a threat to what they describe as already overcrowded duck-hunting conditions.

State law already provides for up to 4,000 non-resident licenses for waterfowl to be distributed through a drawing.

Any South Dakota resident who qualifies as a hunter can buy a license over the counter or online for hunting waterfowl or pheasants,

Non-residents don’t have the same access. They too can buy unlimited licenses for pheasants but they must compete for waterfowl licenses.

At one point in South Dakota’s history the Legislature dictated that waterfowl hunting be closed to non-residents.

That long-standing friction showed on Werner’s legislation. He started with 49 House members who initialed his draft bill as co-sponsors. When the vote came Thursday, nearly half deserted him.

The Republicans who switched against the bill they had co-sponsored were Scott Craig, of Rapid City, Scott Ecklund of Brandon, Steve Hickey of Sioux Falls, Kris Langer of Dell Rapids, Melissa Magstadt of Watertown, Nancy Rasmussen of Hurley, Tim Rounds of Pierre, Tona Rozum of Mitchell, Jacqueline Sly of Rapid City and Roger Solum of Watertown.

The Democrats who voted against the bill they had co-sponsored were Dennis Feickert of Aberdeen, Paula Hawks of Hartford, Troy Heinert of Mission, Kevin Killer of Pine Ridge, Jim Peterson of Revillo, Ray Ring of Vermillion, Dean Schremmp of Lantry, Karen Soli of Sioux Falls and Kathy Tyler of Big Stone City.

The Democratic defections were part of a broader bloc vote by the House Democratic caucus against the bill.

They followed the leads of two of the most outspoken Democratic opponents during the debate, gubernatorial candidate Susan Wismer of Britton and former Game, Fish and Parks Commission member Spencer Hawley of Brookings.

Democrats to vote for Werner’s bill in the House were Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton and Julie Bartling of Gregory. They were also co-sponsors of the bill.

The legislation brought out big political guns around the table.

The Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton conservation league and the state Game, Fish and Parks Department – as in the Daugaard administration -- opposed it and nearly succeeded in defeating it.

Backing the bill was a broad cross-section of nine business and tourism groups including the statewide organizations of the South Dakota Retailers Association and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Werner is a first-term legislator who previously served on the state Lottery Commission as a Rounds-administration appointee. He was also elected previously to the Beadle County Commission and behind the scenes helped in the political clean-up of the James River Water Development District’s management.

Hawley argued against the bill, citing survey results that show 60 percent of duck hunters already say the sloughs and potholes and shorelines are too crowded.

There are just a few periods when the various species of ducks migrate through South Dakota in the fall and there is “this huge crunch” when those times occur, according to Hawley.

“We’re going to expand, and we don’t know what (how many) we’ll expand,” Hawley argued.

Wismer noted that the biggest waterfowl problem of crop damage faced by farmers comes from Canada geese that live most of the year in South Dakota.

“Our resident geese are long gone by the time these licenses will be used,” Wismer said.

The bill has been extensively rewritten from its original version. A complete amendment of the bill – known as a hoghouse – was performed during the House committee hearing.

Another amendment was added during the House debate to add two more safeguards. One would limit a hunter to one of the special licenses per season. The special licenses would be good for two five-day periods of hunting.

The other would prohibit a non-resident hunter from obtaining one of the special licenses and one of the 4,000 general non-resident licenses. The general non-resident licenses are good for 10 days of hunting except in a handful of counties.

Werner acknowledged there isn’t a solid estimate of how many more family members might come back to hunt waterfowl.

He said Montana developed a similar licensing approach for big game and that attracted 481.

“I think it’s in that few hundred range,” Werner said.

He added that the Legislature could take further action “if we see things getting out of control.”

GFP’s final sales report showed 31,105 migratory bird stamps were sold to South Dakota residents for waterfowl hunting in 2013, a slight gain over the 2012 total of 30,607.

Those numbers don’t include thousands of licenses sold to South Dakota and non-residents for various special goose-reduction seasons.

For comparison, pheasant hunting is much more popular. About 86,000 licenses for hunting small game including pheasants were sold to South Dakota in 2013, while non-residents bought about 79,000 small-game licenses and about 11,000 shooting preserve licenses.

Sales of small-game licenses to South Dakotans and non-residents were down considerably from past seasons because of the low pheasant population in 2013. There was a 26,000 decline in small-game licenses from the 2012 levels.

Werner has 23 senators who signed onto the original bill. The lead Senate sponsor is Republican Corey Brown of Gettysburg,.

Brown is the Senate president pro tem, meaning he is the chamber’s top presiding officer among the 35 senators.

Brown’s determination was shown last year, when he pushed GFP to get back to the negotiating table, on the issue of finding a compromise regarding public access to water over flooded private lands.

GFP through its previous action had appeared to be siding with the Wildlife Federation’s position that the waters should be open if there is some way to reach them from a public right of way such as a road ditch.

That battle on flooded-lands access is yet to come this legislative session. Sides have been negotiating for weeks on the matter, which the state Supreme Court ruled a decade ago was up to the Legislature to decide.

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