Proposal would toughen farm-trespass penalties

People who trespass on farms and cause damage to fields, barns or equipment could face harsher penalties in the future under a proposal by state lawmakers to give farmers more protection from vandals.

What the proposal no longer includes is a ban on people taking photos or videos of farms without the owner’s permission, which had been in the bill initially and raised concerns about discouraging whistle-blowers and limiting free speech.

Lawmakers are working to add new definitions to criminal laws regarding trespassing and vandalism to give more protection to farmers, their facilities and their land. Farms would be added to a list of other facilities, such as schools and churches, that carry higher penalties if someone damages or vandalizes them. About 56 percent of the land in Johnson County, or 116,000 acres, is used for farming.

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