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Noem’s proposal to limit conservation officers clears Senate

March 8, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Senate on Monday passed a bill backed by Gov. Kristi Noem that would prevent conservation officers from entering private property without permission.

The bill had suffered an initial setback in the Senate after a committee unanimously rejected it. One powerful Republican, Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, had called it “a slap in the face of conservation officers.” But at Noem’s urging, Republicans revived the bill on the Senate floor and passed it Monday — the last possible day to approve such bills this legislative session.

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“Our policy today is that our conservation officers don’t go onto private land unless they have permission, a reasonable suspicion or a warrant,” the governor said at a news conference last week. “I would like to see that in statute to be consistent.”

While the governor cast the bill as a way to respect private property rights and foster a working relationship between conservation officers and property owners, opponents described it as a “poacher’s bill” that would make it more difficult to catch people who are illegally hunting or fishing.

Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack, a key supporter of the proposal, amended the bill to strike a section that barred courts from using evidence that conservation officers had gathered while they were in violation of the proposed law.

But Republican Sen. Arthur Rusch, who opposed the bill in committee, said the amendment did not improve the bill and would cause problems for courts deciding how to punish people who hunt or fish illegally on private land where conservation officers did not have permission to enter.

“It just ends up being a mess,” Rusch said.

The House and Senate have passed different versions of the same bill, meaning lawmakers must negotiate which bill to send to the governor.