The Senate Transportation Committee has proposed amendments to a measure that would provide additional protection to persons whose property is either seized or condemned under current eminent domain laws. Senate Bill 1309 was met with general approval by the committee, but sent for amending to reconcile specific language that was negotiated among various parties.
“What we’re trying to accomplish here is fairly straightforward,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. He explained that the intent of the legislation is to ensure that in cases where government agencies change their plans for acquiring or augmenting a piece of private property under the eminent domain laws after they’ve already begun the acquisition process, and such changes incur costs for the private property owner, the owner would have means of recouping those costs.
“If the owner ends up paying legal fees or fees for engineers or other professional experts, that person should have a means of being compensated,” Winder told the committee. Language in the bill reads, in part, that should a government agency “amend the project after commencing litigation and the owner of the real property has actually incurred costs, disbursements, expenses and/or attorney's fees relating to issues that are rendered moot by such amendment, the court shall upon motion by the property owner award such sum as will in the opinion of the court reimburse such owner for his reasonable costs.”
Winder also noted that some disagreement about the bill initially existed among various stakeholder groups across the state. “I think we’ve reconciled those differences,” he said. “The Idaho Transportation Department wanted some changes, so did some of the highway districts.”
The Ada County Highway District said it is OK with the proposed legislation. “We are pleased to have worked with Sen. Winder on this,” said Steve Price, legal counsel for the highway district. “We believe this legislation is fair to taxpayers and to private property owners, both.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, asked Winder “Can I please see the amendments to this bill before we vote on this?”
Winder responded that, while he believed Keough’s request was unusual, he would comply. “We generally don’t do this but I’m happy to get you that amendment language, yes.”
Winder told IdahoReporter.com that “Basically what we had is some minor disagreements as to the precise wording of the bill. The amendments that I’ve gotten approved basically take a paragraph or so out of the bill and replace it with a new paragraph. The language changes, however, do not substantively change the meaning or impact of the bill. This will give private property owners some added protections in cases where the eminent domain processes cost them more trouble than what was anticipated.”