As a sign that we may not need Senator Bolin’s SJR 2 to protect our constitution from unnecessary amendments, Republican legislators this week killed a lifestyle amendment from the National Rifle Association.
Rookie Representative Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen) brought House Joint Resolution 1001, a proposal to have us vote on adding the following language to our state constitution:
Hunting, fishing, and trapping wildlife is a valued part of our heritage that shall forever be preserved for the people; water, wildlife, and other natural resources held in the public trust shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good but do not create a right to trespass on private property except as allowed by law, regulation, easement, or contract [HJR 1001, Section 2, introduced 2017.01.20].
As I observed when Representative Dennert mentioned this project in the press before introduction, this feel-good, do-nothing language is adapted from the National Rifle Association’s model “sporting heritage” amendment. The intent is to protect the NRA’s market from anti-hunting “extremists,” although in Indiana, which easily passed a similar amendment last November, the Humane Society and the Department of Natural Resources contended that the amendment would change nothing about current or future fish and wildlife regulations. A Chicago Tribune columnist called the NRA hunt-fish-trap amendment “stupendously stupid” and likened it to the Indiana Legislature’s effort in 1897 to define π as 3.2. The NRA amendment seems to serve little purpose beyond some faint machismo boost: Our constitution says we can shoot us some critters yar-de-har-har!
Useless macho bang-bang legislation usually gets a warm reception in Pierre. But after the National Association for Gun Rights, South Dakota Bowhunters, South Dakota Wildlife, and the South Dakota Izaak Walton League spoke in favor of HJR 1001, Big Ag raised its voice via the Farm Bureau, the Stock Growers, and the Corn Growers to oppose the hunt-fish-trap amendment on grounds of superfluity and unintended consequences to property rights.
Rep. David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) “quizzed” Rep. Dennert and asked, based on his Legislatively engaged family’s commitment to hunting and agriculture, which is more important to the Dennert family, the ability to work the land or the ability to hunt and fish. Rep. Dennert equivocated, saying both are equally important fundamental rights and that to this day some people still rely on hunting and fishing as their main source of food. Rep. Lust followed up, noting that “your grandfather is probably listening,” and insisted that Rep. Dennert choose. Thus boxed, Rep. Dennert acceded to the primacy of property rights.
In his later remarks, Rep. Lust acknowledged the “pleasure of putting a new legislator on the spot,” then explained his opposition to the NRA’s language:
There’s nothing in our constitution right now that guarantees someone the right to farm. There’s nothing in our constitution that guarantees someone the right to be a lawyer, nor to be a fireman, policeman. All of those we would all argue are foundational to—maybe not the lawyer part—is foundational to our society, right? If we don’t have something in our constitution on farming, on some people’s right to farm—and I think Representative Dennert answered the question properly and his grandfather would be proud—we don’t need to put things like this in our constitution [Rep. David Lust, remarks on HJR 1001, House State Affairs, 2017.01.25, timestamp 24:58].
In a sign that the Wollmann sex scandal remains keenly on legislators’ minds, Representative Larry Rhoden (R-29/Union Center) used both screw and dink in his remarks on HJR 1001:
“Don’t screw with the constitution,” was the simple message from Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who voted no.
…He said Dennert’s ideas would work well in the form of a general resolution that declares support for outdoors activities, but they don’t need to be in the constitution.
There’s no need to “dink” with the state constitution to get an emotional high, Rhoden said [Scott Waltman, “Resolution That Would Ask Voters to Add Hunting, Fishing, Trapping as Constitutional Rights Killed,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.01.25].
Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea?), a great fan of trivial constitutional grandstanding, tried to save his young Aberdeen friend’s constitutional diddling by amending HJR 1001 down to just its first 20 words. Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) stepped with a substitute motion to kill HJR 1001, and House State Affairs followed the Speaker. HJR 1001 failed 9–4, losing four sponsors (Bartling, Beal, Lust, and Qualm). Eight Republicans and one Democrat voted for a cleaner constitution and Bs on their NRA report card; three Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of NRA-stroking constitutional clutter.
Rep. Dennert can now focus his attention on more substantial gun legislation in his co-sponsoring portfolio, like House Bill 1072 and Senate Bill 94, which would let people carry concealed firearms without a permit, and Senate Bill 89, Senator Stace Nelson’s really bad idea about letting people sue their schools for not allowing guns on campus.