State Politics

Pass trespassing bill now, fix its flaws in 2019, lawmakers decide

Boise attorney Gary Allen, representing the Idaho Property Rights Coalition, answers questions about a proposed trespass law bill during a House Agricultural Affairs Commitee hearing Tuesday.
Boise attorney Gary Allen, representing the Idaho Property Rights Coalition, answers questions about a proposed trespass law bill during a House Agricultural Affairs Commitee hearing Tuesday. csewell@idahostatesman.com

Any problems with the new law can be fixed next session.

That was the sentiment of several House Agricultural Affairs Committee members Tuesday evening when it came time to vote on a revamped bill overhauling Idaho trespassing law.

The committee advanced the initial bill on Feb. 14 with a 14-1 vote. But when an attorney general’s opinion surfaced concluding the bill may be unconstitutional, that bill was shelved and a new measure drafted.

The new bill, introduced March 1, still makes a person’s third criminal trespass conviction a felony and increases fines for criminal trespass. But it removes “willful and intentional” language and replaces it with wording requiring that the trespasser knew, or had reason to know, he or she was trespassing.

It is again sponsored by Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who also chairs House Agricultural Affairs.

In addition to the AG’s office, state prosecutors’ and sheriffs’ associations also had concerns about the initial bill.

Gary Allen is an attorney representing the Idaho Property Rights Coalition, which comprises about 30 agricultural and landowner groups. He said the new bill addressed all three groups’ concerns.

Michael Kane, representing the sheriffs’ association, said that wasn’t entirely true. Some concerns were addressed in the new bill, he said. But he still disagreed on several other items, including posting requirements. Under the new bill, Kane said, simply entering private land without permission and doing nothing becomes criminal, but the parameters are unclear. Is it entering for “five minutes? Five hours?” he asked. “Over-criminalization is our concern. Benign conduct is being criminalized.”

“The bill here two weeks ago was so flawed,” said Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom — and the new proposal also had problems. He called for more vetting and refining to ensure the bill is fair and understandable to both landowners and recreationists. “The thing that chilled me the most out of all the testimony” Tuesday, he said, was the idea that lawmakers can just pass the measure now and fix it in 2019.

His peers were unswayed. “The bill certainly isn’t perfect,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. But it wouldn’t go into effect until July 1, she said, and lawmakers will be back in January if it needs fixing.

The committee voted 11-3 to advance the bill to the House floor. Armstrong and Reps. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, and Sally Toone, D-Gooding, comprised the three votes against.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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