Photo credit: Kelly Minars

Elections Matter is a series of articles about issues from the 2015 Montana Legislature that were decided by only a few votes.  The objective of the Elections Matter series is to underscore why it’s so vitally important to elect officeholders who support our rights to own, use, and enjoy our property.

Should landowners in Montana have to apply for permission from their county governments before placing a new gate on their property?  Of course not, such a scenario seems nonsensical.  But that’s exactly what would have resulted had legislation by a pair of Great Falls lawmakers been enacted last year.

House Bill 286, sponsored by Rep. Tom Jacobson (D), would have required a landowner to file a notice of intent with the county commission for any planned “fence, barrier, or sign” to be installed on a road on his property.  From there, the law would have required the landowner to appear before the commission in a public hearing to justify the planned addition and provide evidence to prove ownership of the road in question.  And the kicker, any road on your property would be assumed to be a public road unless you convince the commissioners otherwise.

In other words, the commission would be given the power to deny you the right to put up a gate anywhere on your property.  Members of the general public would be given the power to weigh in on whether you should be allowed to do so.  And your property would be considered open for public access unless you can convince the commission otherwise.

It seems like a completely ridiculous idea, but believe it or not this bill died on tie vote in Committee.

What’s worse, a companion bill, HB 304, sponsored by Rep. Mitch Tropilla (D), would have imposed a $500 per day fine on a landowner who keeps a gate closed without getting the commission’s permission.

This is how far we’ve come.  The radical groups who believe that the public should be allowed unfettered access to your private property have infiltrated the Montana legislature.

To be clear, county governments were not interested in acquiring these new “powers” being called for by the anti-landowner groups.  Despite the widespread opposition to this scheme, seven legislators, all Democrats, voted to advance the bill.  When that failed, they tried a procedural motion in the full House to advance the bill, which failed on a too-close 44-56 vote.

The anti-landowner, “universal access” groups are well funded by environmental groups and gaining political clout in Montana.  They use their resources to sue landowners to attempt to force access to their property. These two bills proposed last year would have made it much easier, and cheaper, for them to sue even more landowners in their attempts to force access through their property.

UPOM led the charge in defeating these two terrible bills, but it’s safe to say that similar ideas will be put forth in the next legislative session.  Just one more reason why Elections Matter.