April 10, 2012

Our View: Property owners bill
takes unfair approach

A bipartisan majority proposal for 'takings' offers more reasonable protections.

No one likes to be limited by regulations, but we all benefit from the environmental laws that control what gets released into our air and water.

click image to enlarge

The proposed "takings" law would protect one set of property owners when the government passes a regulation that would limit what they could do with their property, but it wouldn't shield other property owners from the impact of a neighbor's damage to the environment.

2005 File Photo/Fred Field

The Legislature should resist the pressure members may be feeling this week to pass a "regulatory takings" bill in the session's final days that would benefit the few at the expense of the many.

On its surface, the proposed law sounds fair. If the state passes a law that makes a piece of property less valuable, the state and not the property's owner should be responsible for the financial impact.

But what is on the table is nowhere near that simple or that fair.

A minority of members of the Judiciary Committee are proposing a complex system that would let the state dole out special exemptions from broad-based regulations on a case-by-case basis, enforcing the law on some neighbors but not others.

It would also channel millions of taxpayer dollars into the hands of a handful of powerful interests every time the state wanted to do something to protect the public.

This approach is only selectively fair, which is the same thing as being not fair at all. It protects one set of property owners from "takings" when the government creates a regulation limiting what they can do with their property, but does nothing to protect other property owners from the "taking" that comes from the impact of a neighbor's damage to the environment.

A much more reasonable, bipartisan majority report is also circulating, and it should become law. It proposes creating a permanent Regulatory Fairness Committee that would identify unintended consequences in land-use regulations and solicit information from small farmers and woodlot owners, who are the most likely to be affected by a change.

The law would beef up the existing land use mediation program to resolve situations in which a landowner is unfairly injured by a new law or rule.

Pressure is on legislators to accept the more radical approach, and it's easy to see why that would be attractive to large corporate landowners that could afford to take advantage of the litigious regulatory scheme the proposed law would create.

But it would not be a good deal for the rest of us. Lawmakers should embrace the bipartisan majority report.


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