Reform Dies in Washington state

From the Farm Bureau:

Eminent Domain Reform Dies in Senate Transportation Committee

2ESHB 2016, Eminent Domain Reform, died in the Senate Transportation Committee after failing to get enough votes to keep the oft-amended and tortured bill alive.

Sponsored originally by Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, Washington Farm Bureau supported the bill as passed by the House 96-1.

The House-passed bill would have allowed a person to reserve a 7-year option to buy back property taken through eminent domain if the property was not used for the intended purpose. The bill also prohibited agencies from using eminent domain to take property “substantially” for the purpose of economic development or to increase tax revenues. Additionally, the House bill would have required condemning agencies to consider and respond to alternatives proposed by the targeted property owner. Finally, the bill would have allowed a property owner to recover up to $5,000 for reasonable costs to evaluate the condemnor’s offer. Current law provides up to $750.

An amendment by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Adam Kline, D-Seattle, was adopted by his committee. The amendment limited most of the meaningful reform in the bill and caused considerable debate in the Senate Transportation Committee.

The amended bill would have allowed agencies to consider alternatives prior to the property owner being notified that his/her property was selected for final eminent domain action. It would have prevented reimbursement for consulting and legal costs property owners would incur related to the threat of eminent domain. The amendment would have allowed agencies to avoid the return of property by simply transferring it to another agency, even if that resulted in the property being used for a purpose other than that for which it was taken. Farm Bureau opposed the Judiciary Committee amendment, which proved to be a poison pill for this needed legislation.

Most significantly, the amendment stated that property could not be taken “solely” for the purpose of economic development or increasing tax revenues. This is a much higher standard, meaning that if 99 percent of the reason for taking property was to increase taxes by transferring it to a private developer, the agency could still proceed.

Washington Farm Bureau, the Attorney General’s office, and the Institute for Public Justice encouraged the Senate Transportation Committee to pass the House-approved bill and not the amendments from the Judiciary Committee. As an alternative, Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, made a motion to pass the bill out with only a title and intent section, so it could be amended on the floor of the Senate. There were not enough votes to pass the bill in any form.

Many of the House-passed amendments were the result of discussions with the Attorney General’s bipartisan Eminent Domain Task Force. Washington Farm Bureau serves on and will continue to work with the Task Force to address situations where agencies do not respect the rights and interests of property owners.Notice of Rights Dies in Senate Judiciary

Farm Bureau supported HB 2920, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, which would require condemning agencies to provide a pamphlet outlining the process of eminent domain and the rights of property owners who are faced with the threat of eminent domain action.

The bill would direct the Attorney General to write and update the pamphlet. The legislation was requested by Attorney General Rob McKenna to make sure that people understand their rights and deadlines to act.

The House passed the bill 96-0. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Feb. 29 and did not vote on the bill. The bill is now dead.

Rep. Kessler and Attorney General McKenna have vowed to continue the effort to make sure people know their rights when faced with the possibility of any government entity taking their property.