Boise—The House Agricultural Affairs Committee overwhelmingly voted to support Rep. Judy Boyle’s, Trespass Bill, HB 536.
The committee voted 14-1 in support of strengthening Idaho’s outdated Trespass Statutes and sent the bill to the floor of the House.
The one vote against came from House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding of Boise.
The Ag Committee was packed with farmers and ranchers with trespass horror stories including Idaho Farm Bureau President Bryan Searle who testified that the trespassing fine is so low, that it’s not worth the Sheriffs time in his county.
“We’ve experienced all kinds of damage,” said Searle. “At my farm in Shelley, we’ve had pivot tires shot up, fertilizer tanks shot full of bullet holes, we’ve had people drive through plowed fields. We even had a demolition derby with a couple of our tractors, not to mention garbage dumped in our fields.”
Searle says deputies responded to their calls but all he can do is file a report, with just a $50 fine for trespass there’s no investigation, and in all his years farming, he’s seen just a single arrest for littering.
“Farmers want people to enjoy the land, but the challenge comes with vandalism when they damage machinery or shoot things up. We have to have something in place so when we are violated there’s a penalty rather than a $50 fine or what I call 'a fee to have fun'. Fines need to be updated and we need to put some bite into the statute,” said Searle
Cody Chandler from Washington County testified that on his ranch they’re seeing more and more incidences of trespass each year.
“I’’m not an advocate of locking gates, they just keep honest people out, but we continue to have more and more cut fences and vandalism. We had a guy make off with some of our cattle and drove across our property to do it, If we had a stronger statute we could have got him for trespass and subsequently theft, but the laws are so weak we were violated twice.”
Some on the committee thought the bill was too rushed and needed vetting, others questioned its legality but attorney, Gary Allen representing the Idaho Property Rights Coalition said he disagreed with those interpretations.
“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 could become a felon.
Allen stressed that the bill targets repeat offenders, not people who get lost or accidentally trespass. To that point, Boyle added, that she wants a three-strikes clause: if within a 10-year period someone is convicted of two trespassing charges, the third offense is a felony.
When it comes to trespassing on rural property, the county sheriff’s office enforces the law and the county prosecutor prosecutes offenders. Still, some committee members thought the bill to be too harsh and that some convicted felons could lose the right to carry a firearm and to vote.
Boyle, an avid hunter, and rancher said that Idaho Fish and Game already has a third-trespass-is-a-felony rule. She said her bill adds the exact same language to the criminal trespass section of the law.
“This is all geared to the 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.”
Boyle says her bill has widespread support: “We’re not talking about public land. We’re talking about private property. People who pay taxes and paid for their land.”
She reminded the committee that 62 percent of Idaho is public land. “There’re plenty of opportunities to fish and hunt without trespassing on private land,” said Boyle.