The third time was not a charm for legislation aimed at curtailing eminent domain powers in the state. But a form of it may surface again, according to the defeated bill’s sponsor.
The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee narrowly defeated a bill proposed by Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, that would have placed some limits on government use of eminent domain. While the vote was closer this session, it marked the third time in the past three sessions for defeat of similar legislation.
Senate Bill 1046 said, “Eminent domain not shall not be used to acquire private property: for trails, paths, greenways or other ways for walking, running, hiking, bicycling, or equestrian use,” though there is an exception that reads, “unless adjacent to a highway, road or street.”
One of the supporters of the bill was Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, who is vice chairman of the committee. “I thought it was a good bill, I voted to send it to the floor with a do pass.”
Rice laments, “I wish we could have gotten it out of committee and onto the floor. We have an imbalance, we have to do a better job protecting private property. That’s what so different about America. We’ve protected private property much more strongly than anywhere else in the world.”
Rice emphasized that in our form of government, what separates this country from others is the concept of private property and that the protection of that right is crucial, “Private property is the source of our wealth as a nation and as individuals. It’s also something that recognizes that the individual is a sovereign in the United States, which is a different concept anywhere else in the world too.”
Guthrie said that even though many had tied his eminent domain proposal with issues regarding trails and recreation in Pocatello, his bill was much more than that. He echoed Rice’s comments about the value of private property rights.
“It’s simply a private property rights issue and to protect those rights, (because) around the country they’re (government) taking lands out in the counties, they’re actually using the counties to take by eminent domain some of these properties,” said Guthrie.
In a previous interview with IdahoReporter.com, Guthrie equated the use of eminent domain to a person robbing a store with a gun. It is not necessarily the use of the weapon in the robbery being present that is the problem, it is more the threat of the weapon that coerces the store owner to act against his or her will. That threat, he said, is present in eminent domain laws in Idaho.
Guthrie said the way property exchanges work best is to have a “willing seller, willing buyer.”
So, what about a fourth try at some sort of legislation restricting eminent domain takings? Guthrie one suggestion he received is that “we make this law applicable only in the rural areas, so cities basically would still have the right to take property, but at least it would stop in the county areas,” an idea that was actually given to him a few years ago.
“So that’s a possibility,” said Guthrie. “To at least get the rural areas protected. That’s probably the option I would more look to at this point or some point in the future.”