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Legislation would increase penalty for farm trespassing

Legislation sponsored by state Assembly Democrats Eric Houghtaling, Adam Taliaferro and Bob Andrzejczak to protect agricultural and horticultural lands against trespassing and vandalism was released on June 5 by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

“This helps protect agricultural businesses in the state from encroachment that can damage crops and put a damper on their business,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Farming is an expensive venture. Damage caused by trespassing, whether intentional or not, should be rectified.”

“People might not realize that what looks like public open space is actually private property and someone’s livelihood,” said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland-Gloucester- Salem). “This ensures that farmers are able to recover losses for any damage incurred to their property.”

According to a press release, the bill (A-4846) would clarify the restitution and penalty provisions established in law for vandals and trespassers on agricultural or horticultural lands and increase certain penalties.

Concerning damage to, and trespass on, such lands, the bill provides that:

• A person convicted of an offense is liable to the owner, occupant, lessee or licensee of the lands or the tangible property for any reasonable and necessary expense, including reasonable attorney fees, incurred by the owner, occupant, lessee or licensee for restoration of the lands or the tangible property;

• The owner, occupant, lessee or licensee can submit evidence of expenses incurred and damages sustained to the court;

• The court is required to make a finding of the amount of expenses incurred and damages sustained, and if the record does not contain sufficient evidence to support such a finding, the court can conduct a hearing to determine the amount of expenses;

• The court is required to order the person convicted of the offense to make restitution to the owner, occupant, lessee or licensee in the amount of the expenses and damages found by the court.

The bill would also give jurisdiction to the municipal court, in addition to the Superior Court, for collection of penalties pursuant to state law for trespass on agricultural or horticultural lands, and increases the minimum penalty from $100 to $1,000.

The offenses established pursuant to section 2 of state law are:

• Knowingly or recklessly operating a motorized vehicle or to ride horseback upon the lands of another without obtaining and in possession of the written permission of the owner, occupant, or lessee; and

• Knowingly or recklessly damaging or injuring any tangible property, including, but not limited to, any fence, building, feedstocks, crops, live trees, or any domestic animals, located on the lands of another.

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