A Senate panel has rejected a House-passed bill that would have limited the ability of government to take private property for a right of way across private land. But lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee indicated they’d be willing to hear the issue out over the course of the summer in an effort to reach a consensus.
House Bill 628 would have set an exemption to the requirement that highways and bridges be 50 feet wide. The bill was in response to a court case from Latah County, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that prescriptive rights of way across private land had to be no less than 50 feet wide unless the owner proved that the road was established prior to state law. A prescriptive easement is an easement over private property that is acquired through use. The measure to limit the power of the government passed the House 53-14 a week ago.
Supporters said the bill protected property owners from a government taking without compensation. But opponents, including highway districts and utility companies, said the bill would create hardships.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “there are good people on either side of the issue.” She complained that there wasn’t enough time to consider an issue that predates Idaho statehood. “I need a lot more information,” Keough said, urging onlookers not to view her as being “anti-private property rights.”
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, agreed, saying there should have been more time to debate the issue, which has been under the Senate Transportation Committee’s review for two days.
Sen. Jim Rice, a Caldwell Republican, tried to maneuver the bill to the Senate floor and barely mustered a “second” to his motion to support the legislation.
“We need to look first to our constitution because it defines first the powers of government when it comes up against the rights of citizens,” said Rice. “When government says, ‘You let us use 20 feet and when you let us use 20 feet, we get 50 feet,' I have a problem.”
But Corder’s substitute motion to keep the bill in committee carried the day.
Transportation committee chairman Sen. Jim Hammond of Coeur d’Alene asked for and won support for a proposal to ask House and Senate leadership for an interim committee to study the issue in between the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions.
“This has been framed as citizens versus government,” Hammond said. “I think we need to remember who that government is. That government is county commissioners who are citizens doing the best they can for the citizens they represent. That government is highway district commissioners who are citizens doing the best they can for the citizens they represent.”