Senate OKs fines for trespassing
Great Falls Tribune, 2-27-13
The Montana Senate passed a bill Wednesday giving landowners the option of seeking civil penalties for trespassing violations, which a Great Falls senator argued could be used to intimidate sportsmen and sportswomen to discourage “corner crossings.”
But Sen. Frederick “Eric” Moore, R-Miles City, said there’s a need for a civil option because, under current law, the only remedy for landowners is criminal trespassing involving law enforcement — and only if there is property damage.
Moore said the bill, which passed 27-23, would protect private property. The legislation will be considered in the House now.
It creates a civil penalty of at least $1,500 for a person who trespasses and no criminal conviction would be required in order for landowners to pursue the civil action. Photographs could be used as evidence of a civil trespass.
The legislation, Moore added, will free up peace officers to concentrate on areas where their efforts are better spent. As an example, he noted eastern Montana, where he said law enforcement is pressed thin because of an influx of calls related to growth due to oil development.
Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to Moore’s bill that would have given an exception to the civil penalty to people who cross corners where public and private land intersect.
Corner crossings involve stepping across the airspace of private property from public land to reach more public land.
The practice has become a hot-button issue at the Legislature with hunters, wearing orange vests, converging on the Capitol earlier this month to lobby for a bill that would have made the practice legal.
They said legalizing corner crossing would up open thousands of acres of public land that currently can’t be accessed.
That bill failed in the House, where opponents argued corner crossing is trespassing with legalization an infringement on private property rights.
Blewett argued Wednesday in the Senate that it’s an open question in Montana whether corner crossing is technically a trespass.
Currently, the state defers to law enforcement with respect to enforcing trespassing at corner crossings with most agencies taking the position that they won’t prosecute,
Blewett said. Moore’s bill, Blewett said, will allow landowners to pursue $1,500 fines against people who cross corners, which could be used as a “serious club” to intimidate sportsmen and sportswomen who try to access public land at the crossings.
Lawmakers, he said, should do everything in their power to make sure sportsmen and sportswomen have access to public lands.
“I think that’s bad policy,” Blewett said of Moore’s bill.
“This is a taking of private property rights,” John Brenden, R-Scobey, said of Blewett’s amendment allowing corner crossings.
Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, said he wasn’t sure he liked Moore’s bill but said he hated Blewett’s corner crossing amendment, saying it wasn’t relevant to the trespassing legislation.
“It may be good politics to debate this corner crossing matter,” Wittich said. “It’s really bad law.”
The amendment granting the exception to the civil trespassing charge was defeated 31-19.
....its like taking x-lax when you have a bad cough. It wont clear up your lungs, but it sure stops you from coughing