Trespass bill is back from the dead.
Advocates for transparency and general support for the U.S. Constitution celebrated Thursday (3/1/18) morning with news that HB 536 was dead. That same morning, as we do every morning, we checked the legislative agenda for the day. There was no new trespass bill. Then, as we do every afternoon, we checked the agenda at 2:00pm. And surprise! A new trespass bill was on the agenda, but for 1:00pm earlier that day. And we weren’t the only ones to notice what a bizarre (but ultimately beneficial for the bill’s supporters) public notification mishap just took place. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to whomever and call it a glitch; a part of the bizarre saga of these bills. There are other things to address.
First, this bill is 21 pages. For comparison, the U.S. Constitution was written on four pages of parchment. There is a lot to this bill (six more pages than the last one) and still very few interests were consulted. Sportsmen input wasn’t sought period, despite unanswered emails from IWF to the bill’s supporters requesting collaboration. And considering this legislation will require sportsmen dollars to fund the law year after year (see fiscal note), even though not all recreationalists are sportsmen and not all trespassers are sportsmen, it would have been appreciated if grassroots sportsmen groups were given the opportunity to offer their thoughts on the use of their money for something absolutely outside the bounds of the intended purpose of sportsmen dollars. Sportsmen dollars are used to fulfill the mission of Fish and Game, not fund unconstitutional experiments. For that reason alone sportsmen need to oppose this bill. But there is more.
The new bill still gets rid of the rule that requires posting of orange paint or signage every 660 feet and replaces it with language that says private land shall be posted so a reasonable person will know it’s private. That is what the original 660 rule was for. This language is vague and no one has answered what it means exactly. Who is the “reasonable person” in this scenario? That term will be subjective among judges, lawyers, landowners, accidental trespassers, and even purposeful trespassers.
On page 3, HB 658 defines civil trespass as when anyone “enters or remains upon the real property of another person without permission”. On the same page, “Permission” is defined as “written authorization from the owner or his agent to enter upon private land…”, but at the top of page 5 it is stated clearly that an “implied” invitation to enter property is not trespass. Those two things contradict each other and confound the current, concise trespass law.
The bill allows a landowner to post a navigable stream with NO TRESPASSING signs, but admits the stream is still accessible to the public below the high water mark. Either that will cause confusion as to whether someone can go beyond a fence or someone will get it wrong, losing access to a place they have every right to be or getting it wrong and owing a $500 civil fine and paying the landowner triple the cost of their legal fees.
At this point we are only at page 4. People need to respect private property but this bill is a mess. IWF will continue to work with the Sheriffs, Counties, Prosecutors, to suss out the rest. The Attorney General will weigh in too, and we will make sure the right questions are asked. Until then use the tool below to send a letter to your legislators and Chairman of the Committee to oppose the bill. If for any reason, this is a fundamental misappropriation of sportsmen dollars.