Local state legislators were divided on a bill that would allow state game wardens to stop all-terrain-vehicle drivers on private property without a reasonable suspicion that an offense had occurred.

The House rejected LD 1536 on March 9 by a 70-76 vote. The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee had recommended passage of the bill.

Current law provides that a law enforcement officer may stop an ATV to ascertain whether a violation of the law has occurred if the officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has taken place. This bill would allow a law enforcement officer to stop an ATV operated on privately owned property without a reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe a violation of the law had occurred.

In the House, local representatives were split on the measure but a majority were in support.

Voting for the bill were Reps. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland; Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston; Wes Richardson, R-Warren; Joan Welsh, D-Rockport; House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven; Wendy Pieh, D-Bremen; Jayne Crosby-Giles, R-Belfast; and John Piotti, D-Unity.

Mazurek said many of the landowners throughout the state want this law so they will have some control over ATV users who ride on private property.

“Most are not a problem but a few cause problems and this is a way to check on the users of private lands,” Mazurek said. “I supported the landowners’ request to have this on the books and to allow riders to continue to enjoy their activity.”

Kruger said he listened carefully to both sides, hearing the constitutional concerns of the Maine Civil Liberties Union and several fellow members of the Joint Standing Committee on the Judiciary.

“But I also heard from constituents on the other side,” Kruger said. “I trusted law enforcement and voted with the landowners and the sports folks.”

Richardson said he too heard from landowners who wanted the added protection for their property.

Voting against the bill were Reps. Andrew O’Brien, D-Lincolnville; Elizabeth Miller, D-Somerville; Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle; Veronica Magnan, D-Stockton Springs; and Michael Thibodeau, R-Winteport.

“This law would have violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects an individual from unreasonable search and seizure,” O’Brien said. “ATV riders are already required to ask permission to use your land and if they don’t you can report them to law enforcement. Furthermore, this law would have even given game wardens the right to stop you on your own land for no reason.”

The Senate has yet to vote on the measure. State Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said he is still reviewing the legislation.

“There are cases in the area where private landowners have been fined for damage and the subsequent environmental problems that have resulted in unauthorized ATV operations on that land,” Rector said. “Those fines have come from ATV operations for which permission was never granted and for which the landowners have no responsibility. ATV damage to land can be substantial.

In order to keep private property accessible to ATVs for use with the landowner’s permission, it may be necessary to allow for an expanded ability for game wardens to check on ATV operators. That way landowners have some enhanced protection that they will not have such problems occur. However, I am also concerned about the civil liberty issues that this presents and need to believe that the loss of personal rights is more than offset by the benefits of access, which is limited should this legislation pass.”