BOISE — The House Agricultural Affairs Committee, after an extended hearing, recommended passage of a bill that would change rules for posting of trespassing and increase the fines associated with doing so.
An earlier version version of the bill was introduced last month and recommended for passage until an Attorney General’s opinion found portions of it were unlikely to survive constitutional scrutiny and could interact with the new proposed Castle Doctrine to allow a mistaken trespasser to be killed by a landowner.
The new version of the bill still increases a variety of fees and creates the possibility of a felony charge for repeat trespassers. The bill is supported by agricultural groups but opposed by sportsmen’s groups and sheriffs around the state.
Attorney Gary Allen, who lobbied in favor of the bill, told the committee it would help to deter trespassing.
“We’re asking you to take trespass more seriously than you have in the past,” he said.
Allen pointed out that the bill requires landowners to post no trespassing notices in such a way that a reasonable person would know they aren’t allowed to enter some piece of land. For simple trespassing, the first offense would trigger a $500 fine, the second a $1,500 fine, the third a $5,000 fine. For trespassing that causes more than $1,000 in damage, the bill would impose a $1,500 fine for the first offense and $5,000 for the second. The third offense would be a felony.
Sportsmen raised particular concern with the removal of an existing, widely observed practice (the bill’s backers and opponents disagreed as to whether current law, in fact, requires it) of marking property lines with orange paint. Sportsmen argued that could mean, particularly in mountainous or forested areas, that someone in the backcountry could cross into private property without ever realizing it, only to face hefty fines and possible criminal prosecution.
“This is like increasing the fine and penalties for speeding and then taking down all the speed limit signs so no one knows how fast they’re supposed to be going,” said Michael Gibson of Trout Unlimited.
Gibson said sportsmen weren’t opposed to increasing the penalty for trespassing, only to making it harder to tell when they’re on private land.
Michael Kane, lobbyist for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, said his group also opposed the bill due to the reduction in posting requirements and the increased criminal penalties.
“Heretofore benign conduct is being over-criminalized,” he said.
Agricultural lobbyists, including Russ Hendricks of the Idaho Farm Bureau, argued that many other states don’t require as much posting as Idaho, and he said such posting creates an unfair burden on landowners.
Attorney Forrest Goodrum also objected to a provision in the civil trespassing portion of the bill which allows a landowner to collect attorney’s fees if they win the suit. There’s no equivalent provision that allows someone sued frivolously for trespassing to recoup their legal expenses if they are found to be innocent, he said.
The bill next heads to the House floor.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.