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House revises, passes “No Trespass” bill, sends it back to Senate

Bill returns to Senate

One of the most contentious and hotly debated bills in the state Legislature was voted on Thursday in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

Following lengthy floor debate Thursday afternoon, SB 2315, the “No Trespass” bill, passed in the House 55-38. The Senate had passed the bill 28-18 before sending it to the House where it was extensively amended. The bill will be returned to the Senate for further scrutiny.

The version of SB 2315 passed by the Senate called for the creation of an electronic database that would identify land closed to hunting, open to hunting with permission only or closed to hunting. The database was to have been operational for “several” counties by the fall hunting season of 2020 and all counties included by September 2022.

However, landowners would not be required to participate in the database program. They could chose to post their land with “no trespassing” or “no hunting” signs instead. North Dakota’s current law is that private land is open to hunting unless posted otherwise by the landowner.

Also included in the amended version of SB 2315 voted on in the House Thursday was a “statement of legislative intent,” which included providing for a legislative management study to be conducted during the 2019-2020 interim by a “hunters access advisory group” which would establish guidelines for a proposed database. House members said no, in a 37-56 vote, to that idea and several other “emergency” provisions in the House version of SB 2315 before approving other provisions of the bill.

Discussion on the House floor prior to Thursday’s vote showed a sharp division of opinion among lawmakers on the issue. Rep. Mike Brandenburg of Edgeley told fellow legislators, “Landowner, hunter relationships are at an all-time low” and cited practices by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. He further stated that failure to vote for the emergency provisions included in the House bill would result in all going home and have “all farm groups post their land because you can’t work with these people.”

Another legislator noted that landowners are becoming larger across the state due to “things caused that are associated with sportsmen.”

Rep. Bill Tveit, Hazen, called SB 2315 a “safety issue” needed to “keep people away from dangerous areas of our property.”

Rep. Ben Koppelman, West Fargo, countered that “nobody is having anything taken away from them.” Koppelman explained that when he purchased his land he knew what his rights were and that he had the right to post his land if he wished to do so. Koppelman voted against the emergency provisions in the bill, in particular delegating authority to a committee, which he said was “not good practice.”

Prior to the final vote on the remaining provision of the bill, Rep. Dan Ruby, Minot, told the assembly, “There’s a lot of threatening rhetoric going on here. I don’t think that is the mindset of all the landowners.”

Ruby supported the bill after the lengthy emergency provisions were gutted. The bill goes goes back to the Senate where it likely will be referred to a conference committee comprised of legislators from both chambers. The conference committee would attempt to write a new version of the bill before again presenting it for legislative action.

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