Hundreds of hobbyist beekeepers likely are breaking the law in the Beehive State, because of a law crafted more than a century ago requiring beekeepers to register their hives with the government.
Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, wants to amend the law with House Bill 115. His constituents live in south Utah County — Elkridge, Genola, Goshen, Payson, Salem, Santaquin — as well as to the north in Fairfield and Cedar Fort in Cedar Valley.
“I didn’t know we had to register until five years after I started keeping bees,” Roberts said. “I think that is the case with a lot of people.”
Last week, he presented his bill amendment proposal to approximately 40 beekeepers representing the Utah County Beekeepers Association, Wasatch Beekeepers Association and private individuals during a gathering in American Fork.
Roberts tried to pass a similar bill before, HB 224. An interim committee took the bill to discuss possible changes to several beekeeping statutes.
When the House of Representatives meets again at the end of January during the 2016 legislative session, HB 115 will come up for a vote.
Restrictions on beekeeping tightened in the 1990s when the immigration of Africanized honey bees crossed the United States border in Texas. They are commonly known as killer bees, and the threat of an invasion into Utah was a concern.
In 2009, the bees established colonies in Kane and Washington counties. Studies have shown the hybrid killer bee cannot survive the Utah winters found farther north unless a swarm obtains warm shelter such as inside a heated building wall.
As more became known about the Africanized bee, public panic relaxed, although some residents still worry about the threat of bees in general.
“It’s all a matter of educating the people,” Pleasant Grove resident Terry Jensen said.
There are several states, 22, that don’t require registration; 21, including Utah, require all beekeepers to be state registered; four states have voluntary registration; and three more states exempt hobbyists from registering.
Roberts' amendment would also prohibit Utah cities and towns from outlawing beekeeping.
Utah territorial legislators created a law establishing honey bee inspectors in 1892 because foulbrood disease was uncontrolled and killing honey bees. Additional legislation was approved for beekeeper registration to help bee inspectors communicate about American foulbrood outbreaks with beekeepers whose colonies were at risk.
The registration fee for a beekeeper is $10 and the license to keep bees must be renewed annually.
“Ten dollars is a pittance. I don’t register for the principle,” said Saratoga Springs resident Lee Fugal.
In a show of hands, two people in last week's audience were not registered.
“We need this bill so if we’re not registered, we’re not criminals,” Fugal said.
There are arguments both for and against government regulation of beekeepers.
The regulation allows for a central agency to have a pool of names of all the beekeepers in case of an emergency. If there is an outbreak of American Foulbrood, beekeepers can be alerted by text or online.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has 2,437 registered beekeepers. The majority renew their licensing.
“Those who go through the process of licensing have a tendency to be more responsible beekeepers,” said beekeeper Stephen Briles.
Those who oppose annual registration want to see less government involvement in residents' private daily lives.
"My people in south Utah County elected me because of that philosophy," Roberts said.