During the past few years as the State Representative for Lawrence County I have addressed several important issues through legislation.
One of the most interesting topics that I’ve taken on is the issue of how government agencies such as the Missouri Department of Conservation interact with landowners in the matters of (1) landowner hunting rights and (2) private property rights generally.
When I was growing up, landowners had a lot more say over the wildlife on their own property than they do today, especially when it came to nuisance wildlife that poses a threat to the prosperity of agricultural operations.
For whatever the reason, as the years have gone by government agencies have increasingly asserted themselves into the business of private landowners.
One example is that in the past the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) would issue no-cost deer and turkey hunting permits for landowners who had at least 5 acres of land.
This changed in 2019, the year before I was elected to the Missouri House, when MDC changed the requirements to only allow free permits for people who owned 20 or more acres of land, which the landowner would now have to register with the department.
Needless to say, many landowners were not happy with these new requirements, leading me to file legislation that would re-implement the old system.
As I dug into some of these issues surrounding private property, I came across another policy in Missouri statute that shocked me.
In the Revised Statutes of Missouri, Chapter 542, Section 525 was a policy outlining the instances in which state agencies, counties, cities, etc… could put up surveillance or game cameras on private property.
There were the obvious allowances – landowner permission and search warrant – plus one big 4th Amendment violating provision; surveillance and game cameras could be placed on private property with “permission from the highest ranking law enforcement chief or officer” of the agency, county, city, etc.
This law violates the spirit of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and I am working on removing the offending section through my House Bill 1788.
It should be noted that a Tennessee man named Hunter Hollingsworth recently won a lawsuit after finding a surveillance camera placed on his land by state and federal wildlife agencies.
The judge in Tennessee ruled that game wardens could no longer enter private property without a search warrant.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not anti-MDC or anti-law enforcement, but I do want both entities to operate within the confines of private property rights and the Constitution.
The Missouri Department of Conservation should exercise full control of conservation areas and back off of respectful citizen landowners.
Similarly, all government agencies should respect the rights of Missourians to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures as the U.S. Constitution states.
Let me conclude by quoting Article 1, Section 2 of the Missouri Constitution: “That all constitutional government is intended to promote the general welfare of the people; that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; that all persons are created equal and are entitled to equal rights and opportunity under the law; that to give security to these things is the principal office of government, and that when government does not confer this security, it fails in its chief design.”
(Mitch Boggs represents District 157of the Missouri House of Representatives. He can be reached at 573-751-4077 or by email at Mitch.Boggs@house.mo.gov.)