It didn’t take freshman Rep. Phil Lyman long to make his presence known in the 2019 Legislature – he introduced a bill Monday that could throw in jail anyone who “illegally” closes a public road in the state.
Lyman, R-Blanding, took the House seat of former Rep. Mike Noel – the man southern Utah conservationists/environmentalists loved to hate.
And Lyman has his own history as a former San Juan County commissioner in getting in battles over public land access – even doing a short jail stint for driving on a “closed” BLM road several years ago as a protest over federal overreach.
It’s a short bill that would make it a Class C Misdemeanor to “unlawfully close a (public) road.”
Lyman tells UtahPolicy.com that for some time various environmentalist groups have “illegally” close various roads, from paved roads to well-maintained dirt roads, to RS277 roads – which are dirt roads/tracks that are kept open by federal law to public access.
Two years ago, says Lyman, now-majority-leader Frances Gibson, R-Mapleton, passed a bill that made it illegal to close open public roads.
“But it didn’t carry any penalties. I want to put some bite into it,” said Lyman, who, along with other freshman legislators, was sworn into office Monday, the first day of the 2019 Legislature.
If passed, HB179 would carry a $1,000 fine and/or one-year jail term for closing, or otherwise obstructing, access to a legally open public thoroughfare.
“We need to stop these volunteers” from trying to close roads, he said.
Lyman said one group recently dug a deep ditch across a dirt road, pilled up dirt and rocks to make a berm, and then put logs on top of the berm, to close a road.
The Bureau of Land Management ordered the group to take down the barricade, and they did.
But without HB179, groups can just continue doing so without any real penalty, said Lyman.
Even if the barricade is brought down rather quickly by BLM or other government order, he said various folks, including visitors, are confused by the temporary road closure – which under current state law is illegal.
A fine and/or jail sentence is one way to get these groups and individuals to stop such activity, he said.
If the House Rules Committee agrees, the bill will be sent to a House standing committee for a public hearing and votes.