Wyoming Legislature

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A coalition of environmental, animal rights and other groups has filed a new legal challenge to revised Wyoming laws that prohibit trespassing on private land to collect data.

The groups opposing the laws are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, National Press Photographers Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and Western Watersheds Project.

The coalition filed an amended complaint Monday. It says that even though the Wyoming Legislature earlier this year revised the civil and criminal laws to specify that they only applied to trespassing to collect data on private lands, they remain unconstitutional.

"The data censorship laws make criminals and scofflaws of those who collect information necessary to speak out about what they see and find on lands within Wyoming," the revised complaint states.

The coalition says the revised laws are unconstitutional because they still seek to block members from communicating with the government based on the content of information they want to convey.

"The reason this case is so important to us is that we believe it's essential that members of the public be able to access open land in order to enforce the environmental laws of the state and the federal government," said lawyer Leslie A. Brueckner of Oakland, Calif., who represents Western Watersheds Project.

The coalition first sued over the original laws Wyoming enacted last year. The coalition said the original laws prohibiting collection of data on "open lands" could be construed to prohibit gathering information used to question resource management decisions and expose animal cruelty even on public lands.

The groups also argued that their members had a constitutional right to turn over information they collected to government regulators.

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U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper in December denied the state's request to dismiss the lawsuit, stating he had concerns about the constitutionality of the original state laws.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, sponsored the measures that were adopted as state law last year. He also sponsored amendments to those laws this year that removed the "open lands" language and specified the prohibitions only apply to private land.

In a recent interview, Hicks said he sponsored the measures because many landowners in his district have experienced state and federal officials coming onto their property without permission to taking water quality samples and conduct wildlife surveys.

An attempt to reach Hicks for comment on the revised lawsuit on Tuesday was unsuccessful.

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael, whose office is defending the state laws, declined comment Tuesday.