An effort to correct Wyoming’s controversial data trespass laws doesn’t go far enough to rein in the overreach that spurred a lawsuit against the state, Senate President Phil Nicholas said Tuesday.
The two bills, Senate File 75 and its companion civil liability bill SF 76, were crafted in part to eliminate the application of last year’s data trespass to “open land” and instead more closely tie them to private lands. Nicholas (R–Laramie) cautioned against a Senate Judiciary Committee amendment that presumably would have narrowed criminal data trespass to those who enter or cross private land without permission in order to reach adjacent lands to collect environmental data.
But the legislation fixes don’t go far enough, Nicholas said. The amended version of SF 75 would still outlaw a legal activity — the collection or photography of soil, water and air, Nicholas said. That would not solve the problem lawmakers are trying to solve.
“The committee amendment intends to capture conduct on public land simply because you cross private land to get there,” Nicholas told Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) the lead sponsor of both the 2015 and 2016 data trespass bills. “The expansion of this language intends to and is designed to criminalize conduct that takes place on public land because of the mechanism upon which you arrived there.”
Nicholas said there are public access roads across private lands all over Wyoming, and the people who drive those roads might be captured under the language of SF 75.
The Senate narrowly defeated the SF 75 amendment, but passed both SF 75 and SF 76 on first reading. The bills will likely be reworked before second reading in the Senate later this week.
Hicks said he appreciated Nicholas’ scrutiny of the language in the bills. “If you cross private land and then went onto public land and collect data you’re probably going to get captured by this law,” he said.
Senators expressed appreciation for other aspects of the law, such as a refined definition of data collection. Under the laws being considered, a person must record and attach exact location information to a data sample, not merely take a photograph of the landscape for aesthetic reasons. Such photography could, in theory, violate the current laws which are being challenged in federal district court.
Wyoming Outdoor Council director of external relations Stephanie Kessler spoke against the data trespass bills at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. She said the bills still serve to chill the acts of recording environmental information such as violations of rules and regulations.
“Maybe it protects landowners, but it also suppresses actions by citizens who are out on the landscape,” Kessler said. “This bill creates an additional burden or punishment for trespass when we already have trespass on the books that are equal to all.”
For more, read these WyoFile stories:
Judge hears arguments in landmark data trespass case, Jan. 26, 2016
Court will hear case against data trespass laws, Dec. 29, 2015
State defends data trespass laws before court, Dec. 11, 2015
WyoFile showcases potentially illegal photos of Wyoming, Oct. 19, 2015
Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of data trespass laws, Oct. 2015
Groups sue Wyoming over “data trespassing” law, Sept. 2015
Critics say Wyoming data trespassing law criminalizes science, May 2015
Data trespassing bill is aimed at public lands grazing battle, May 2015
High-stakes suit pits ranchers against water-sampling greens, by E&E, Nov. 2014