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Committee delays action on goblin toppling bill

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 5:07 p.m. MDT

The Boy Scout leaders involved in pushing over an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park were removed from their positions Monday. (Dave Hall) The Boy Scout leaders involved in pushing over an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park were removed from their positions Monday. (Dave Hall)

SALT LAKE CITY — Concern that its language is too vague or its penalties too harsh led a committee of Utah lawmakers to delay action Thursday on the so-called goblin toppler bill.

Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, sponsored HB68 in response to the October case of two Utah Boy Scout leaders whose alleged destruction of a unique geologic formation called a "hoodoo" sparked international outrage.

Glenn Taylor, 45, and Dave Hall, 42, each were charged with felonies as a result, but assistant state parks director Jeff Rasmussen said the case was problematic because it raised issues of how to adequately penalize destruction of natural resources and recover costs.

"This would clear the way for the protection of geologic formations and features," Rasmussen said. "It does not increase penalties any more than what currently exists."

Goblin Valley State Park boast rock formations that produce a maze-like playground. (Utah State Parks, Utah State Parks) Goblin Valley State Park boast rock formations that produce a maze-like playground. (Utah State Parks, Utah State Parks)

Prosecutors at one point said they struggled to find appropriate charges against the men, who filmed pushing a large boulder from its perch at Goblin Valley State Park in October.

Despite their assertions that they were concerned the goblin might fall on someone, the film sparked a barrage of hate mail because it depicts cheering and congratulatory high-fives.

Pitcher said the bill is designed to strengthen the existing law and provide for clarity should someone destroy a natural resource.

"It was Goblin Valley that brought this to the forefront," Pitcher said, stressing the bill answers the question of how the law should deal with someone who "destroys something that really is a treasure."

The Boy Scout leaders involved in pushing over an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park were removed from their positions Monday. (Dave Hall) The Boy Scout leaders involved in pushing over an ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park were removed from their positions Monday. (Dave Hall)

Rasmussen said there was nothing in the law that allows for criminal penalties assigned to the destruction of unique geologic resources, but lawmakers wondered aloud how a prosecutor could assess the value of rocks and if that could be abused.

Some wondered, too, if the measure would go too far in punishing stupidity and turning everyday people into felons.

"It seems like it is extreme to me," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "I want to send a message here, but I don't want to fill the prisons with people who have never committed a crime until they have done something stupid like this."

Noel, too, worried aloud that because the bill levies penalties for all state park features such as picnic tables or a golf green, a felony could be filed against drunken young men who drive across a state golf course.

"I think that is way over the top," he said.

Pitcher said he will continue to work on the provisions of the bill and bring it back to his colleagues.

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