PIERRE, S.D. | The South Dakota Legislature voted Monday to approve rules governing the use of lakes on private land for recreation, and Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed the bill into law.
The House and Senate both exceeded the two-thirds support required to pass the bill after disagreeing over whether it should expire in July 2021 or June 2018, the time frame that ultimately ended up in the bill.
The issue has long vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts. Daugaard on Monday had urged state lawmakers to support the measure during the special legislative session, saying he would sign the bill that day if it passed.
"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.
Later, he said signing the bill opens up tens of thousands of acres of waters to public recreation while also respecting the property rights of landowners.
State officials intervened after a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in March that said the Legislature must decide the extent the public can use so-called nonmeandered waters on private land for recreation. Since the decision, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department 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 called for restoring 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 bars them from being paid for allowing fishing.
Under the bill, GF&P will be able to negotiate with landowners to open access to such lakes for recreation. With Daugaard's signature, the bill takes effect immediately.
Daugaard called the lakes an "economic engine," saying their closure has hurt small-town businesses. There are thousands of nonmeandered lakes in South Dakota, but only roughly 90 have had fishing, according to GF&P.
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a bill supporter, said lawmakers need to get lakes back open and give landowners respect.
The gathering was South Dakota's 26th special legislative session. Previously, the most recent was in 2011 for legislative redistricting.