SHERIDAN — During its first substantive meeting of the legislative interim Monday, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee examined current state trespass law as well as possible additions or changes to statute to reflect technological advancements and stakeholders’ needs.
Committee members asked Legislative Service Office staff to begin drafting bills related to trespassing on private property while hunting and detailing how drone trespassing and surveillance might be expressly prohibited.
The final forms of these bill drafts may appear before the Legislature during the 2023 general session.
Reviewing Wyoming’s trespass statutes is the judiciary committee’s No. 1 priority for the legislative interim.
The committee will also review high-priority interim subjects, including substance use treatment courts, the office of the Guardian ad Litem and crimes against vulnerable persons and professions, among others, during meetings this week and in coming months.
Under Wyoming law, trespassing is punishable by both criminal and civil actions, explained Legislative Service Office Staff Attorney David Hopkinson before the committee. Criminal charges can be brought against those who trespass generally, trespass while hunting or trespass to collect natural resource data.
General criminal trespass is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a $750 fine or both while trespassing to hunt is punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both, Hopkinson said.
Civil remedies are available under common law to landowners upon whose land an individual intentionally trespasses.
The committee’s discussion began with HB103, a bill sponsored by Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and offered but not considered for introduction during this year’s legislative session.
The bill, Crago said, is intended to streamline enforcement of trespassing law by allowing Wyoming Game and Fish Department officers to issue citations for entering or traveling through private property to hunt, fish, trap or collect antlers or horns.
Current law is enforced differently throughout the state, Crago said, with WGFD officers in some counties citing those who travel through private land with trespass while others say they lack authority to enforce the law if the alleged trespasser is not actively hunting or fishing.
The bill seeks to grant WGFD explicit statutory authority to cite trespassers as they travel through private property while hunting or fishing, making such behavior a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison, a $1,000 fine and the forfeiture of any game, antlers or horns taken in violation of the law.
“What I’m trying to do is clean [the law] up so that even if someone is trespassing to get to public property, (WGFD officers) would still be eligible for a ticket under the hunting trespass statute,” Crago said.
The bill is not intended to tackle corner crossing, or moving from one piece of public land to another at a checkerboard intersection between two parcels of privately-owned land. That issue, Crago said, will likely be determined by the courts.
In his comments on the bill, Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, said HB103 could provide welcome clarification to law enforcement entities on how best to deal with trespassing to hunt.
The committee decided to continue the bill’s drafting process in the coming months.
The judiciary committee also took up the matter of trespass by drone. With drone technology readily available to hobbyists and drone use more common, many Wyomingites expressed concern before the committee about drone trespass on private property.
Dan Shannon, director of the Wyoming Department of Corrections, said current law does not offer Wyoming correctional staff authority to stop drones flown over WDOC facilities. If drone use over correctional facilities were defined as trespass, Shannon said, WDOC authorities and local law enforcement could better secure facilities.
Representatives from WGFD and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation worried drones could be used to harass wildlife and recreationists or gain unfair hunting advantages.
Brett Moline, director of public and governmental affairs at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said he approved of harsher trespassing options to strengthen landowners’ property rights.
In response to these comments, the committee decided to begin drafting bills criminalizing drone trespass as a misdemeanor crime; explicitly defining drones as aircraft in Wyoming Criminal Code and WGFD statutes; and prohibiting the use of drones over correctional facilities and potentially other areas with unique security concerns.
The committee also requested information from the Legislative Service Office on how drone infringements on privacy and use in voyeurism crimes and how other states have updated laws to account for drone technology.
The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee will next meet in Casper in September.