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

Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. This is what is called an “ag gag” bill. Our politicians are still kissing ranchers’ asses after all these years. Read “The Banditti of the Plains,” by A.S. Mercer, documenting Wyoming politicians’ efforts to help big ranchers who were attempting to murder homesteaders in the late 19th century..

  2. The sole purpose of the original bill is to intimidate people who are lawfully exercising their rights to enjoy the outdoors and engage in free speech. Don’t “fix” it, repeal it.

  3. So let’s see if this flies: Say I’m driving down a road that is legal public access across private land and I stop alongside the road to jump out and take a photograph with my digital camera. I do this frequently. Landscapes enthrall me. The photo will contain images of private and public lands and perhaps a few privately-owned cows. Sounds innocent, yes? Most digital cameras, at least high-end DSLRs, these days can embed in the metadata of the image file, the GPS coordinates for the location where the photo was taken. So now I have exact location information as part of the image file of the photograph. Does that make me a criminal? I don’t know. If I sell that photo to iStock or a magazine and it then gets used to illustrate an article that is critical of the private landowner(s), can I be found in violation of this data trespass law or the proposed fixes even though I may have had no intent to collect the type of data that some landowners seem to be afraid of? Not that I’m going to stop taking photos. This is America, not some third-world country run by despots. But sometimes I wonder.

  4. Why doesn’t the legislative body just say, if you own a corporation ranch, with nature conservative holdings, and huge tracks of public lands encompassed, you don’t have to answer to the public. I really question Hick’s intentions for such a law. Senator Hicks works for a conservation district, maybe he should resign, for his job is to instill good practices on water. So maybe Senator Hicks would like to explain how this data hurts his fields of work? Maybe Senator Hicks could explain how overgrazing and cattle rotated to concentrated pastures has no effect on watersheds in Wyoming. Even the richest people in Elk Mountain encompass huge tracks of public ground and they don’t provide data, like the DEQ requires of Landfills for leach aid water, or mines for mineral waste tailing. Sorry Senator Hicks concentrations of cattle waste on public ground is no different than feedlots waste each is accountable, to public’s water.