Home Examiner Examiner News Bill to help prevent vandalism on farmlands moves through Senate

Bill to help prevent vandalism on farmlands moves through Senate

Legislation sponsored by state Assembly Democrats Eric Houghtaling, Adam Taliaferro and Bob Andrzejczak to protect agricultural and horticultural lands against trespassing and vandalism was approved by a state Senate panel on May 31.

“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.”

The bill (A-1053) revises, expands and clarifies the restitution and penalty provisions established in law for trespassers and vandals on agricultural or horticultural lands, according to a press release.

Current law provides that it is a criminal offense to:

• Knowingly or recklessly operate a motorized vehicle or ride horseback upon the lands of another without obtaining and possessing the written permission of the owner, occupant, or lessee thereof; or

• Knowingly or recklessly damage or injure 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.

The degree of the offenses described above ranges under current law from a disorderly persons offense to fourth degree or third degree crime, depending upon the pecuniary loss involved. A person convicted of one of these offenses is required to make restitution and pay certain minimum mandatory fines in addition to any other penalties that may be assessed for the particular degree of the offense, according to the press release.

The bill provides that a person who is convicted of one of the criminal offenses listed above is liable to the owner, occupant, lessee, or licensee (the bill adds licensee to the list of possible victims under the current law) of the lands or of the tangible property for, in addition to any other fine, penalty, or restitution which may be imposed by law, any reasonable and necessary expenses, including reasonable attorney fees, incurred by the owner, occupant, lessee, or licensee to ensure the lands or the tangible property are restored to their condition prior to commission of the offense, according to the press release.

The court hearing the case would be required to make a finding of the amount of expenses incurred and damages sustained and order the defendant to pay them as appropriate.

The bill establishes a civil penalty of at least $1,000 for persons who knowingly or recklessly operate a motorized vehicle or ride horseback upon the lands of another without obtaining and possessing the written permission of the owner, occupant, lessee, or licensee thereof; or knowingly or recklessly damage or injure 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.

For these civil offenses, too, the court hearing the case would be required to make a finding of the amount of expenses incurred and damages sustained and order the defendant to pay them as appropriate, according to the press release.

The bill was cleared by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

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