JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri hunters would be allowed to trespass to retrieve their hunting dogs under a measure presented to a legislative committee.
Members of the House Committee on Agriculture Policy heard the plan Tuesday, March 11. The legislation would limit trespassing to hunters trying to retrieve their hunting dogs, and stipulate that they could not enter the property with a firearm.
The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, said the bill would prevent criminal or civil trespassing cases, and would require the individual leave the premises immediately after retrieving their hunting dog.
Wesley Powell, a resident of Laclede County, spoke in opposition to the bill. He said he understands the dilemma, but he does not believe this is a problem the General Assembly needs to get involved with. He said the bill gives permission to trespass and takes the place of the landowner.
Powell also said he worried about unintended consequences of the bill. He said he was concerned about the safety of hunters who try to retrieve their dogs off private property at night.
"Bad things could happen," he said.
Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, said he can relate to this bill. He said his family has always hunted and when he was young two of his father's hunting dogs were killed after chasing a raccoon onto private property.
"Trespassing with animals, especially dogs, is a big issue for my family. And we definitely want to protect the dogs, protect the hunters and protect our rights," he said.
Schieffer also said that in rural counties, many hunting areas have been turned into subdivisions, which increases the likelihood of a dog entering someone's property.
Rep. Linda Black, D-Desloge, said she agreed with the nature of the bill and the reason behind it, but expressed some concerns.
"We have to take into consideration there are individuals who, their property is their fortress," she said. "And we have many of those individuals in rural Missouri who you do not step foot on their property... I think we just need to proceed with caution."
Gayer Dixon, a resident of Greene County, spoke in favor of the legislation. He said he often hunts in Minnesota, where a similar law is in effect, and has never heard of a problem with the law there.
"I understand that trespass is an issue," he said. "But I also understand that hunting is a long-standing tradition in the state of Missouri. This is just another tool that we would like to have to go get our dogs."
In many instances, Dixon said, while the hunter is waiting for permission to retrieve their dog from private property the dog is shot.
Karen Strange, president of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said this bill is not trying to infringe on property rights, it is trying to protect property. She said she gets phone calls from hunters on this issue more than others.
Black, though, expressed concern over the bills failure to define a hunting dog.
"We have a general thought process that needs more ratcheting down to specifics," she said.
Strange said her organization was open to changes.
No immediate action was taken on the bill.