State Politics

Lawmakers ‘really troubled’ with trespassing bill — but they passed it on anyway

A contentious new proposal would overhaul Idaho’s trespassing laws.
A contentious new proposal would overhaul Idaho’s trespassing laws. Statesman file

Nearly all of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee members said they support a proposal to update and strengthen Idaho’s laws on trespassing.

But some committee members Wednesday had concerns that legislation presented this session by Rep. Judy Boyle is being rushed through without thorough vetting. Others voiced worries about its legality. Still others said creating a felony punishment for repeat offenders seemed too extreme.

Nonetheless, the committee voted 14-1 to send the bill to the House floor for debate with a do-pass recommendation.

The only committee member to vote against the bill, House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said he agreed there are problems with trespassers that need to be addressed, but he could not support the bill as written.

The committee listened to nearly three hours of testimony and discussion on Boyle’s legislation, which she said would make consistent and streamline the “patchwork” of Idaho’s laws governing trespassing. Property posting requirements and penalties currently depend on whether the action is criminal, civil or recreational.

The Farm Bureau, ranchers and farmers spoke in favor of the bill, while representatives from sportsmen’s groups said they would rather collaborate with lawmakers to find a solution that works for all stakeholders.

When it comes to trespassing on rural property, typically the county sheriff’s department is responsible for enforcing the law and the county prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting offenders.

Michael Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association and Idaho Association of Counties, and Holly Koole-Rebholtz, lobbyist for the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association, both told the committee they had serious concerns about the bill’s wording.

Kane said the bill, as written, might be indefensible in court and was possibly unconstitutional. He said it could also have unintended consequences — through inconsistencies, vagueness or other legal technicalities, making certain actions criminal that weren’t intended to be.

“I do not believe for a millisecond that is what is intended by the sponsors,” he told the committee, noting that he and his clients were not even aware of the proposed legislation until it was printed last week.

Koole-Rebholtz concurred. “As currently written, we are going to have problems trying to enforce this statute,” she said.

Gary Allen, a property-rights attorney assisting Boyle and representing the Idaho Property Rights Coalition, said he disagreed with those characterizations.

“The Girl Scouts are not going to become trespassers or felons,” he said, referring to committee concerns that anyone who sets foot on private property without permission will become a felon.

The bill is aimed more toward repeat offenders, not people who get lost or accidentally trespass. Boyle wants a three-strikes clause — if within a 10-year period someone is convicted of two trespassing charges, the third offense is charged as a felony.

Some committee members thought this to be too harsh, since convicted felons lose the rights to carry a firearm and to vote.

Boyle, a rancher and the chairwoman of the committee, reminded her colleagues that Idaho Fish and Game already has a third-trespass-is-a-felony rule. Boyle’s bill adds the same language to the criminal trespass section of the law.

“This is a habitual offender,” she said. “The felony provision has been in Idaho Fish and Game since 1986. No one has demanded it be taken out of the code.”

The committee struggled with what to do with the bill. If the panel held it, it would in effect kill the measure. If the lawmakers sent it to the House floor under an amending order, it could be tinkered with.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, cautioned, “I think it is dangerous to go to general orders. ... All kinds of things can happen on general orders.”

But she said she was “really troubled” with the felony section of the bill.

Boyle defended her bill: “We are not talking about public land. We are talking about private property. People who pay taxes and paid for their land.”

She noted that 62 percent of Idaho is publicly owned. “There are plenty of opportunities to fish and hunt without trespassing on private land,” she said.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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