Bill Description: Senate Bill 1217 would require a county or highway district to maintain public access to public lands and waters when the county or highway district legally abandons a road or other public right-of-way.
Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?
Senate Bill 1217 would amend Section 40-203, Idaho Code, which lays out the legal process by which a county or highway district may legally "abandon and vacate" a road or public right-of-way. The bill would require that the relevant commissioners "accept the presentation of evidence that the highway or public right-of-way being considered for vacation furnishes public access to state or federal public lands or waters."
The bill would also prohibit a county or highway district from abandoning a road or public right-of-way "that furnishes public access to state or federal public lands or waters … unless an equivalent or better highway or public right-of-way is furnished as a replacement."
It goes on to say that the replacement "shall be of the same kind as the vacated access and shall be substantially the same length, width, and quality."
Finally, it says, " Such replacement right-of-way may be privately maintained but shall contain a perpetual, unfettered public right-of-way to maintain public access to the state or federal public lands or waters."
Cutting off public access to public lands by closing roads is a tactic embraced and encouraged by certain groups that would prefer to see public lands inaccessible and unused. Such behavior, however, runs contrary to Idaho's history and even our state constitution, which recognizes "the rights to hunt, fish and trap." The Idaho Constitution says these rights "shall forever be preserved for the people and managed through the laws, rules and proclamations that preserve the future of hunting, fishing and trapping."
Senate Bill 1217 embraces this principle and takes steps to preserve Idahoans’ access to their public lands.
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