State Politics

Trespassing bill passes Idaho Legislature with new changes

“No trespassing” signs can be found along many roads skirting open range in the Boise Foothills. Lawmakers are debating the most sizeable overhaul of Idaho trespassing law in years.
“No trespassing” signs can be found along many roads skirting open range in the Boise Foothills. Lawmakers are debating the most sizeable overhaul of Idaho trespassing law in years. Idaho Statesman file

Update: The House on Thursday passed the amended version of the bill 51-18. The bill now heads to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature.

The Senate has signed off on a bill to clarify and strengthen Idaho’s trespass laws.

“The current statute does very little to discourage trespassing,” Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs and the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate on Wednesday.

Senators on Tuesday approved a series of amendments aimed at addressing concerns about the controversial bill.

The bill Wednesday passed the chamber on a 29-6 party-line vote with little debate.

Critics included Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who said the bill is “not ready for prime time” and some of its language “is simply too vague.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, countered that there are problems with the current statutes, and gone are the days of the honor system of respecting private property.

“Our state is changing and I think it is important to acknowledge that,” Winder said.

Next, the amended bill goes back to the House for approval.

The bill attempts to update trespass laws in three different sections of Idaho law – something everyone involved seems to agree is needed. It revises private property notice requirements and hikes the penalties for trespassing.

The amendments:

▪ Also allow a property owner to give someone verbal permission to access private property. Previously, the bill only provided for written permission.

▪ Award the prevailing party attorney fees in a civil suit. Defendants must first show that the lawsuit against them was brought “without foundation.” The earlier text only awarded such fees if the landowner prevails.

▪ Make the first offense with no damage an infraction instead of a misdemeanor.

▪ Defines what it means for someone to “remain” on property: That’s when they “fail to depart ... immediately when notified to do so by the owner or his agent.”

▪ Award damages to the damaged party, which in some cases, such as leased farmland, may not be the landowner.

Two other proposed amendments failed, one by Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, which sought to add clarification about entering a home or business, and one by Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, proposing striking the bill’s enacting clause so it could go back to the drafting board for more collaborative work.

The House passed HB 658 on a 45-22 vote on March 12 after nearly 10 hours of committee hearings and a two-hour floor debate.

When Harris brought the bill before the Senate Resources and Environment Committee on March 14, he asked to send the bill to the Senate’s amending order, so changes could be made to it.

The committee concurred after hearing testimony from law enforcement representatives who are concerned about difficulties enforcing the bill as written.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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