The opponents in November’s election for a local House of Representative seat took opposite sides again during Tuesday’s legislative video conference in Havre, this time over a bill introduced by a Missoula legislator.
Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Chinook, said one bill starting to cause some controversy at the Legislature is the corner-crossing revision to trespassing laws, sponsored by Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, and co-sponsored by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel.
The bill would allow people to move from one piece of land to another if authorized to be on that land — such as state or federal land — at the corner of privately owned land.
Warburton said the idea is that, in areas where public land is checkerboarded and the corners of two pieces of public land are at the corners of pieces of private land, people can cross at the corner without trespassing.
“I have heard a lot from constituents, and I will definitely oppose that, ” she said. “You are dealing with a trespassing issue, and you are dealing with people crawling through your fence. I am hoping that will die in committee. ”
But Karen Sloan, who ran against Warburton as a Democrat last year, said that some times there is no other way to reach public land.
“That could be, but I think private property rights would trump that, personally, ” Warburton said, adding that if someone wanted to get to the public land they could get permission from the private landowner.
Sloan said landowners in the area already have advantages, such as being able to lease federal land at extremely low rates, compared to leasing private land. She said Warburton needs to know that there are other views, and not all landowners oppose giving access.
“I come from a ranching community, and I have people that I know very well that this involves, and they are not so greedy that they think that they have this little piece of federal land in the middle of theirs and not grant access to it, ” she said.
Warburton said she knows there are views opposed to hers.
“I believe the private property rights trump that. You don’t just simply step over a corner post you go through somebody’s fence potentially tear down the fence, (disturb their livestock) …, ” she said. “If they really want to get a helicopter or something and fly in there … well, I’m not stopping them. When it comes to having trespass on private property, with current technology, I can’t support that. ”