By Mannix Porterfield
You won’t see any cattle drives these days in West Virginia, and that’s one reason the Senate Judiciary Committee moved Wednesday to update the century-old law on trespassing livestock.
There were other reasons behind approval of SB47, however, in an effort to modernize a statute on the books since 1913.
Senate counsel Betty Caplan explained the intent is to provide a speedier approach in providing notice to an owner of trespassing livestock, and imposing more fitting penalties for violators.
If the owner isn’t found in 48 hours, the sheriff must be contacted.
After 10 days, the sheriff can take possession and either return the animals to the owner, or sell them at public auction.
A first offense brings a warning, but a second violation within six months is a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of $50 to $100, and subsequent infractions within another six months pushes the penalty to between $100 and $1,000, Caplan explained.
Back when the existing law was put into force, the fines ran between $5 and $10, and the language alluded to cattle drives, Caplan pointed out.
“I don’t know of any cattle drives any more,” Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, told his fellow senators.
“So, I think it’s probably long overdue that we update our status.”
In sending the bill to the Senate floor, Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, quipped, “In recognition of the 100-year anniversary of the last amendment made to the bill, I move that it be sent out.”
Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor, said the effort is a total rewrite of what once was known as the general livestock law.
The idea is to impose penalties on animal owners who habitually let them run wild, he said.
At the same time, it protects a farmer whose livestock escape after an incident beyond his control, such as a tree falling across a fence and creating a hole.
In such instances, Williams said, “It does not have an impact on him, if he gets his animals back inside within a reasonable amount of time.
“There are some folks, particularly those with horses, who just let them run pretty much where they want to go,” he added.
Human trespassers were covered in separate legislation, SB338, an effort to codify common law on liability of property owners, explained Senate counsel Leah Macia.
“Under current law, landowners, generally speaking, have only the duty of reasonable care to invitees and licensees, and a duty of simply not to act in a willful, wanton disregard of the safety of trespassers,” she told the committee.
The bill would reaffirm the duty to extend reasonable care to trespassers, except for “flagrant” ones, she said.
“Intent is to codify the current state of landowner liability,” Macia said.
“It wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t expand any rights. It wouldn’t expand or contract any liability. It would simply freeze it in place as it is now.”
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