Initiative targets eminent domain

2009-07-31T22:05:00Z Initiative targets eminent domainGazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
July 31, 2009 10:05 pm  • 

HELENA - The United Property Owners of Montana filed a proposed constitutional initiative Friday that its backers say would ensure that a fair-market value is paid for eminent domain and land-use regulation.

It filed the proposed 2010 ballot measure Friday with Secretary of State Linda McCulloch.

Calling itself a grass-roots coalition of landowners, sportsmen and allied businesses, the group said the measure seeks to fix inequities in Montana's eminent-domain laws regarding property "takings."

Under current law, it said, a property owner is compensated only when a government action reduces the value of a property in its entirety.

"The way it works now is completely unfair," said Chuck Denowh, the group's policy director. "If your property is reduced by 100 percent, you get paid in full; if it's only reduced 95 percent, you get no compensation whatsoever. We should be treating every taxpayer the same. This amendment will ensure equality."

Government regulations are intended to benefit the public at large, Denowh said, but in certain cases these regulatory costs are borne by a small minority of taxpayers.

"If we put in place a new regulation for the public good, the public should split the cost of that regulation evenly," Denowh said.

Under the proposal, if a government regulation reduces an individual's private property value by more than 25 percent, the property owner is owed the difference.

Denowh said the 25 percent threshold allows for normal government land-use regulations, with the proposed initiative addressing only new regulations that seriously reduce someone's private-property value.

Toby Dahl, a United Property Owners of Montana board director from Roundup, called the initiative a look-before-you-leap policy for government.

Dahl said the group's primary motivation is to help farmers and ranchers in rural Montana. Increasing restrictions on how private property may be used jeopardizes the ability of the next generation of Montana farmers and ranchers to make a living off the land, he said.

Once the proposed ballot measure clears reviews by state agencies, backers may begin circulating the petition for signatures.

To qualify for the ballot next year, sponsors have until mid-June 2010 to obtain the signatures of nearly 50,000 Montana voters. They must include 10 percent of them in 40 of the 100 state House districts.

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