State Politics

Gov. Otter won’t sign Idaho’s big new trespassing law

“No trespassing” signs can be found along many roads skirting open range in the Boise Foothills. This one attracted target shooters. Lawmakers last session passed an overhaul of Idaho trespass law.
“No trespassing” signs can be found along many roads skirting open range in the Boise Foothills. This one attracted target shooters. Lawmakers last session passed an overhaul of Idaho trespass law. Idaho Statesman file

Gov. Butch Otter allowed a heavily debated overhaul of Idaho’s trespassing codes to become law Wednesday without his signature, describing it as badly needed but with several serious ill effects.

The bill was the last big issue Idaho lawmakers awaited Otter’s decision on before they can adjourn for the year. That is expected to happen shortly.

The bill updates three different sections of Idaho trespass law. It revises private property notice requirements and increases trespassing penalties. Its provisions will take effect on July 1.

“The myriad problems and bad actors plaguing the agricultural community and other large landowners need to be addressed,” Otter wrote in a letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke.

But “there remain significant legal and practical concerns,” Otter wrote. In particular, he highlighted “innocent behavior” that could be misinterpreted and severely punished; concern that land surveyors are not specifically exempted from the law’s effects; and “a need for clearer language expressly providing for treble damages for removing timber from public lands.”

The governor said he had offered to help resolve some of the bill’s trickier parts, but lawmakers declined that offer.

“(T)his legislation laudably calling for a ‘renewal of the neighborly way’ also could have a chilling effect on recreationists, sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts, and ironically even neighbors afraid of inadvertently subjecting themselves to strict trespass laws,” Otter wrote.

Throughout the past few weeks’ debate, everyone appeared to agree that Idaho’s trespassing laws are badly in need of clarity. The disagreements came over the approach to a fix.

The new law was promoted by a coalition of 33 various agricultural organizations and other large landowners calling themselves the Idaho Property Rights Coalition. Quieter supporters also included Dan and Farris Wilks, two Texas brothers who drew attention when they purchased 172,000 acres of central Idaho land in 2016.

The legislation was revised multiple times after it was first introduced, in attempts to solve possible constitutional issues and respond to complaints from law enforcement and sportsmen. At one hearing, lawmakers agreed the legislation still had weaknesses but that those could be patched when they met again in 2019.

An attorney general’s opinion earlier this month suggested the bill could combine with Idaho’s new “stand your ground” self-defense law to permit trespassers to be legally shot in cases where they would not have been before. It’s unclear after all of the bill’s many changes whether that opinion remains valid.

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