South Dakota lawmakers knocked down another challenge to a commission overseeing fighting sports such as mixed martial arts Monday.
Overriding opposition from Gov. Dennis Daugaard and others, a committee of the South Dakota Legislature unanimously passed a bill creating an athletic commission with power to set rules for combative sports.
It now heads to the full House, where Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, plans a second attempt to block approval for mixed martial arts.
Hickey and other opponents say they have no objection to creating a commission overseeing traditional fighting sports such as boxing or karate. But Hickey said the state needs to draw a line at mixed martial arts, which he characterized as uniquely violent and dangerous.
“Mixed martial arts is over the line of what should be tolerable,” said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls. He termed mixed martial arts the craft of “nearly killing another person.”
But Hickey’s proposed amendment to ban mixed martial arts was defeated on a voice vote, with only a few members of the committee in support.
A majority agreed with supporters that regulating mixed martial arts, which combines boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, was the best way to protect people.
“These matches take place,” said Mike Kilmer, who owns a training gym in the Black Hills. “With regulation we can minimize the injuries. We can minimize any of the negatives that go along with it.”
Opponents also warned that endorsing mixed martial arts would desensitize viewers to violence and contribute to a degeneration of society.
“We don’t want to become a society that has lost its capacity to wince,” said Hickey.
Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, responded by saying the bill wasn’t “a discussion about societal change” but simply proposed to regulate the fastest-growing sport in the country.
Mixed martial arts events are already occurring in South Dakota, but without any oversight or rules. Rules from a commission, such as required blood tests, insurance and suspensions for athletes who suffer concussions or knockouts, could make the fighting safer, supporters argued.
“A commission is needed to ensure the safety and compensation for the participants,” said Paul Hunhoff, a mixed martial artist from Yankton who is also the son of state Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.
Supporters also said having a commission could let South Dakota attract high-level fighters to bouts in South Dakota that could bring money into the state.
Opponents said the state shouldn’t be profiting from violent spectacle.
“We hope this Legislature will resist all efforts to bring such violent spectacle to our state,” said Dale Bartscher of the Family Heritage Alliance.
The closest point of contention Monday was whether to give Daugaard authority to appoint the athletic commission. The bill that previously passed the Senate gave the Legislature most of the authority to appoint commission members, a reaction to the decisions by Daugaard and his predecessor, Gov. Mike Rounds, to not appoint a commission created by a prior bill.
Jim Seward, Daugaard’s general counsel, told lawmakers the governor would appoint the athletic commission if this year’s bill becomes law. He argued it was unconstitutional for the Legislature to appoint members of an executive branch commission.
The committee voted to give Daugaard back that authority, and Johnston said the Senate would probably accept that change.
The bill now heads to the full House, where Hickey plans another try to defeat it.
“I’m not done fighting,” Hickey said after the vote. “That’s round one.”
He said he may bring his proposed amendment banning mixed martial arts again on the floor of the House, with a change to satisfy concerns that it could criminalize military training exercises.
Rep. Dean Schrempp, D-Lantry, is the prime sponsor of the bill on the House said, and believes it has support from two-thirds of the Legislature, enough to overturn any possible veto from Daugaard.
Seward said he hasn’t spoken with Daugaard about what he plans to do with the bill, which he continues to oppose. Daugaard could veto it, sign it, or let it become law without his signature.