BOISE — A bill supported by dozens of Idaho farm groups and aimed at deterring trespassing on private property has been sent to the House floor with a “do-pass” recommendation.
Dozens of people testified on House Bill 536 before the House Agricultural Affairs Committee Feb. 14, including many farmers and ranchers who recounted numerous examples of damage done to their crops and equipment by trespassers.
“We have had corrals burnt for firewood, fences cut, crops destroyed, water tanks shot up, livestock chased and shot and calves run over,” said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who crafted the bill.
The bill is supported by at least 30 farm groups.
Boyle, a rancher, said Idaho’s trespassing laws are currently scattered over three different statutes and are inconsistent. She said her bill clarifies the state’s trespassing laws so they are more easily understood.
The bill also increases penalties because, Boyle said, current laws don’t include penalties sufficient to deter trespassing.
Currently, someone convicted of criminal trespassing on private property faces a $50 fine but the bill would increase the fine for a first offense to $500.
“It is literally not worth the prosecutor’s time for a $50 fine,” said Boyle, chairwoman of the House ag committee.
The legislation also eases the posting requirements that private property owners have to follow, which currently include placing “no trespassing” signs every 660 feet.
During the meeting, committee members heard from a lot of farmers and ranchers who offered examples of the damage they have sustained from trespassers who have shot their pivot tires, drove through planted fields and even destroyed expensive tractors.
Madison County farmer Brett Ricks provided images of one of his fields with vehicle tracks running through it. “I would say this is a yearly occurrence,” he said.
“The testimony you’ve heard today from farmers and ranchers points to the need for House Bill 536,” said Stacey Katseanes-Satterlee, who spoke on behalf of Food Producers of Idaho and Idaho Grain Producers Association.
Committee members also heard from leaders of several sportsmen and wildlife organizations opposed to the legislation that said the 15-page bill was rushed through with no input from their members.
“Last week was the first time we were privy to this bill,” said Michael Gibson, the Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.
Lobbyists representing the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, Idaho Association of Counties and Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association said the legislation contains a lot of good provisions but the groups can’t support it as written.
Though the 15-member ag committee voted 14-1 to approve the bill, several members expressed concern about a provision that could result in someone being convicted of a felony for a third criminal trespassing conviction.
Property owners have “been treaded on way too much. That’s evident by the testimony we have seen today,” said Rep. Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, a rancher. “But I would prefer to give fines as opposed to felonies. That’s where my anxiety is.”
If the legislation passes the House, it will be sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mark Harris, a Republican rancher from Soda Springs.