SD House panel endorses fight regulation bill

SD House panel endorses bill to regulate boxing, mixed martial arts despite gov.'s opposition

Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- Despite Gov. Dennis Daugaard's opposition mixed martial arts events, a South Dakota House committee on Monday endorsed a bill that would create a state athletic commission to regulate boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts.

Daugaard has said he opposes the bill because it would legitimize mixed martial arts fights, which he says are so violent they don't deserve to be called sport. But the Commerce and Energy Committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the full House.

The Legislature passed a similar law in 2009, but that expired last year because former Gov. Mike Rounds and Daugaard never appointed any commissioners. Daugaard has said the previous measure was flawed because appointed commissioners could have been personally liable if the commission was sued.

However, the governor's legal counsel, Jim Seward, told the committee that Daugaard has pledged to appoint the commission if the Legislature passes this year's bill over his objections, as long as the bill includes a change made Monday at the governor's suggestion. That change would require the governor to appoint the commission's five members. A version passed earlier by the Senate would have allowed legislative leaders to appoint four of five.

Seward said he does not know whether the governor would veto the measure, which would require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers to pass it over Daugaard's objections. If the Legislature passes the bill, the governor also could sign it or let it take effect without his signature.

"He still opposes it," Seward said.

Daugaard a month ago blasted the bill, saying it's "absurd and ridiculous" to call mixed martial arts a sport.

"The way one wins in those contests is by beating up your opponent, bloodying them, kicking, scratching, punching," the Republican governor said in January. "I don't support in any fashion anything the state would do to legitimize this kind of behavior. I think it's a sad commentary on what our culture allows in some areas."

But supporters of the bill said Monday that a commission is needed to oversee boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts because unregulated professional matches now are often conducted without proper rules, referees, testing, medical personnel and other measures to protect the fighters.

"It's a very safe sport. It just needs to be regulated," said David Martin, a Sioux Falls lawyer who represents two dozen mixed martial arts fighters.

Martin said the bill would get rid of nearly all those currently putting on so-called mixed martial arts fights in South Dakota. The measure's supporters said fights held in recent years have been unregulated and unsafe.

Supporters also said creating a commission would allow nationally recognized boxing and mixed martial arts matches to be held in South Dakota.

Paul Hunhoff of Yankton, who recently started fighting in mixed martial arts events in nearby states, urged lawmakers to pass the bill, saying regulations would allow more South Dakotans to take part in the sport. He said regulations would ensure fighters are tested, examined by doctors, covered by insurance and paid as promised.

"When proper precautions are taken, it's no more dangerous than any other sport," said Hunhoff, the son of state Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.

The senator, a nurse, said South Dakota needs to regulate mixed martial arts to encourage safe fights.

"Let's give them, our youth, an opportunity to participate in their sport and achieve their dream," Sen. Hunhoff said.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, and Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City — both pastors — proposed scrapping the bill and replacing it with language banning mixed martial arts, but the committee rejected that idea.

Hickey said a half dozen other states ban mixed martial arts fights. He said those fights are an indication of society's increasing acceptance of violence, which sends the wrong message to children.

"The line needs to be drawn somewhere... I hope you'll agree mixed martial arts is over the line of what is acceptable," Hickey said.

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