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South Dakota House passes lakes bill, teeing up Senate vote

(Pierre Capital Journal photo)

PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard urged state lawmakers Monday to approve rules governing the use of lakes on private land for recreation, saying he would sign the bill that day if the Legislature passed it.

Representatives voted 52-16 Monday for the bill, exceeding the requirement of two-thirds support to pass. The measure now heads to the Senate.

State officials intervened after a March South Dakota Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must decide the extent the public can use so-called nonmeandered waters on private land for recreation. Since the decision, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks has limited access to infrastructure on more than 20 lakes in the state.

Lawmakers convened a study committee that endorsed the legislation.

The study committee's proposal would restore access to nearly 30 lakes for public recreation hampered after the high court ruling. The bill also specifies that other lakes on private property are open for recreational use unless a landowner installs signs or buoys saying an area is closed, though property owners could still grant permission to use the water. The measure would bar them from being paid for allowing fishing.

Under the bill, Game, Fish and Parks would be able to negotiate with landowners to open access to such lakes for recreation. With Daugaard's signature, the bill would take effect immediately and would sunset in July 2021.

"It took much work, and a great deal of compromise, but this is a good policy," the Republican governor said during an address to the Legislature.

Daugaard called the lakes an "economic engine," saying their closure has hurt small-town businesses. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a bill supporter, said lawmakers need to get lakes back open and give landowners respect.

The gathering is South Dakota's 26th special legislative session. The most recent was in 2011 for legislative redistricting.