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Legislation increases penalties for damaging farm equipment and trespassing on agricultural property

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[AUG. 10, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- On Tuesday, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed into law tough new penalties to deter the vandalism of farmland and farm equipment and to protect the state's important agricultural production.

"Whether planting crops in the spring or harvesting them in the fall, our farmers have a short period of time to complete their fieldwork," Blagojevich said. "Even a small delay to repair or replace equipment that has been senselessly damaged by vandals can cause significant production losses and jeopardize a farmer's financial future."

House Bill 120, sponsored by Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, and Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, was introduced after vehicles on three farms in Macon County and one farm in McLean were deliberately set on fire in the fall of 2003, collectively causing about $400,000 damage and hampering farmers' ability to harvest their crops. The law makes criminal damage to such equipment and "immovable items of agricultural production" like barns and grain bins a felony offense. It also stiffens the penalty for trespassing on farms from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor, effectively doubling the potential jail time for the crime from six months to one year and increasing the maximum fine from $1,500 to $2,500.

Also under House Bill 120, penalties for vandalizing farm equipment escalate according to the dollar value of the damage. If the damage totals $300 or less, the crime is a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison. However, damage exceeding $100,000 is a Class 1 felony, which carries a possible prison term of four to 15 years.

Two young men pleaded guilty to the vandalism in Macon County, served six months in a prison boot camp and were paroled. The McLean County case, which authorities believe is unrelated, has never been solved.

"Before long, farmers will return to the fields for the fall harvest," Mitchell said. "They should not have to worry that their equipment, which is very expensive to buy and repair, will be damaged or destroyed overnight by vandals. This new law will send a message to would-be vandals that they will be held accountable for their actions."

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House Bill 4020 -- sponsored by Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein; Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, and Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville -- holds trespassers liable in civil court for damage they cause to farm property with a motor vehicle, including an ATV. If the person operating the vehicle is younger than 16, both the owner of the vehicle and the parent or legal guardian of the minor are liable under the new law.

"I am very pleased that local law enforcement now has more tools to investigate and prosecute the criminals that cause damage to farm machinery and equipment," Macon County State's Attorney Jack Ahola said. "Due to the high costs of these items, it is essential to make the penalties appropriate to the amount of damage."

"Agriculture is vital to Illinois' economy," Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. "It's a multibillion industry that employs nearly a quarter of our work force. This law makes it clear criminal activity that disrupts agricultural production won't be tolerated."

Both measures passed unanimously and take effect immediately.

[News release from the governor's office]

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