PIERRE, S.D. — The South Dakota Senate signed off on a flurry of bills to start off its final full week, including measures to expand the use of deadly force by private citizens, restrict game wardens' investigations, and beat back a resolution expressing disapproval over a state government merger.
Using an obscure rule called a "smoke out," which gives life to bills defeated in committee, the Senate voted in favor of a "stand your ground" measure brought by Sen. John Wiik, a Big Stone City Republican, that he said would protect citizens who use lethal force, even to stop what the citizen sees as a felony.
But he also tried to caution against what-if scenarios posed by opponents.
"We're not here to license vigilantes," Wiik said.
Currently, state law allows for citizens to deploy deadly force against another person in order to protect themselves from life-threatening behavior, but HB 1212 could expand that bubble of immunity to include the protection of "himself, herself, or another."
It's the "another" part that raised alarm from some lawmakers.
Sioux Falls Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, asked Wiik if this bill would allow him — with legal immunity — to shoot from his back porch at a man stealing his neighbor's grill.
"If you're not in any reasonable danger, you'd better have a reasonably good attorney," responded Wiik.
Sen. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City, warned such a bill would create the "wild west."
In other action
In other Senate action, the body resuscitated a bill defeated in committee that would curtail a time-worn legal right held by game wardens to enter private property to check hunters' compliance with rules, otherwise known as the "open fields doctrine."
The measure, replete with a new amendment that waives any penalties that might be imposed upon game wardens who refuse to destroy evidence seized during a search deemed illegal, will align current Game, Fish and Parks posture with the law, said prime sponsor Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack, R-Union Center.
"This is a sportsmen's bill," said Cammack, trying to assuage concerns from numerous conservation and wildlife groups that in committee framed the bill as a win for poachers.
But Sen. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion, rose in opposition noting that codifying restrictions on the "open fields" doctrine creates a messy situation for game wardens trying to protect South Dakota's hunting rules.
"This creates a legal problem for the courts," Rusch said.
The Senate voted 21-14 to send the bill back over to the House for concurrence.
Finally, opponents in the Senate also narrowly defeated a resolution to express official displeasure with Gov. Kristi Noem's consolidation of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources with the Department of Agriculture.
"How is this legislature going to appear to the voters," asked Sen. Timothy Johns, R-Lead. He noted DENR and the Department of Agriculture's missions statements "are in conflict." To the voters, to our constituents, it just doesn't appear right."
The Senate voted 18-to-17 to defeat the resolution.
Both houses are expected to finish their business by Thursday evening.