Morris: Purple Now Marks Your Property
by Leo Morris
As a curmudgeon of long standing, I come from the “get off my lawn” school of private property. It’s direct, it’s simple, it provides no chance of misunderstanding.
And just in case I’m not on hand to shout people off the premises, there is a nifty little sign that gets the job done: No trespassing. Seeing such a notice, even the most dimwitted of interlopers is sure to get the message that this is a place to tread lightly, if at all.
My brother lives in Texas, so his sentiments are even more forcefully expressed. There is a fence all around his property, with motion-detecting cameras and a gate with a keypad. Anyone bypassing all that will see a small notice placed discreetly by his door: Nothing in here worth dying for.
Such straightforwardness is apparently too harsh for legislators ever in search of greater subtlety and finer gradations of nuance. Again hitting on the perfect solution for a problem that did not exist, Hoosier lawmakers have followed the example of several other states, including Texas, by enacting a Purple Paint Law.
As of July 1, Hoosiers may “mark their property and prevent trespassing” by applying purple paint lines on trees and fence posts. Lord, that’s almost friendly, isn’t it? It’s like announcing that your property is being guarded by Barney the dinosaur.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they did this. As nearly as I can tell from researching the issue, the purple stripes will eliminate the expense of replacing damaged or stolen “No trespassing signs” and prevent damage to innocent trees being viciously assaulted with 10-penny nails.
Wow. Millions and millions of dead trees and scores of desperate families forced into sign-replacement bankruptcy. Yeah, I missed those news stories, too.
If you feel like rushing out to stock up on purple paint, please remember that this is government work, so you can’t just go slapping the stuff everywhere haphazardly and indiscriminately. There are rules. Very precise rules
The law says that any purple mark must be “a vertical line of at least 8 inches in length.” For trees, “the bottom of the mark needs to be at least 3 feet but not more than 5 feet from the ground. Marked trees may not be more than 100 feet from the nearest other marked tree.”
Purple marks can also be on any fence post as long as the mark covers at least the top 2 inches of the post. For fence posts, “the bottom of the mark needs to be at least 3 feet but not more than 5 feet and 6 inches from the ground. A marked post cannot be more than 36 feet from the nearest other marked post.”
I imagine some crafty would-be trespasser (one of the 1 in 10,000 who even know what all that purple even means) getting out the tape measure: “Hey, Merle, this purple tree is 102 feet from the other one. Go get them huntin’ dogs out of the truck.”
Or maybe he’ll turn me in to the Purple Paint Police. For every violation, I will face a series of escalating fines, and if I hit a certain number, the state will just come in and confiscate my property since I am clearly not competent to protect it.
Oh, wait. That’s not really funny, is it?
These days, our property rights are not likely to be violated by deer-hunting Merle or mushroom-gathering Sally or lawn-tromping Billy or even the wandering-gypsy Snopes family deciding to camp out in the living room while we’re on vacation It will most likely be — get out the tinfoil hats — by conspiring representatives of some government unit in Indiana.
They will wake up some morning and decide they can get more tax money from someone else owning our home or place of business, so they will declare it blighted and condemn it. Just ask the residents of a low-income neighborhood in Charlestown, where the mayor is trying to fine homeowners into bankruptcy to make way for an upscale subdivision.
Or some police department or prosecutor’s office will discover it is low on funds and conjures up a few civil forfeiture cases. That’s where your property can be seized and sold if you are “suspected of” a crime you are never charged with. Just ask all the parents whose cars were grabbed because their children were pulled over with drugs found in the vehicles.
Yes, yes, I hear you. The General Assembly is always “reforming” these bouts of confiscatory zeal, and there are cases before both the Indiana and U.S. Supreme Courts that might lead to a curbing of some of the worst abuses.
I’d like to say that brings some small comfort. But I still might recommend we stock up on paint and put purple stripes on our foreheads whenever we go out in public. Just make sure they’re at least 3 inches long with the ends no more that 2 inches from the ears.
Can’t be too careful.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.