By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- A bill designed to protect farmers and other landowners from government takings by limiting the use of eminent domain in Idaho has gained a foothold in the Idaho Senate.
The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee unanimously voted to print the bill Jan. 30, which means it will get a public hearing.
Sen. Jim Guthrie, a Republican rancher from McCammon in southeast Idaho, said the legislation would stop government entities in Idaho from using eminent domain for trails, paths, greenways, and walking, running, hiking, equestrian or bicycling use.
"I'm in favor of greenways and walking paths. Just don't take my land to develop it," Guthrie said.
If a government entity offers a landowner a fair price for their land and they agree, that's fine, he added. "But I don't want to have my property pried from my fingertips."
Guthrie said his bill is needed in light of several high-profile eminent domain cases around the country where condemnation was used for purposes other than genuine public infrastructure needs.
Closer to home, he added, his bill would prevent a proposal by the Portneuf Greenway Foundation for the city of Pocatello to use eminent domain to complete the city's partially finished greenway system.
Several landowners in Pocatello have refused to sell parcels of their land for the greenway and the foundation has proposed using eminent domain. The greenway foundation's goal is to have a trail that stretches from Pocatello to McCammon, which means it would wind through a lot of farmland.
"I think the issue is as big as it gets as far as protecting farmland and agriculture," Guthrie said.
The bill is supported by Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which has policy opposing the use of eminent domain for recreational purposes, and Bannock County Farm Bureau, which has many members who live between Pocatello and McCammon.
"There is a lot of pasture and farms from Pocatello to McCammon and those farmers don't want a bike path running through their land," said Kendall Keller, IFBF's regional director in southeast Idaho.
When Guthrie was a member of the Idaho House of Representatives in 2011, his bill passed the House by a vote of 56-14, but it never got a hearing in the Senate. It also failed to get past a Senate committee in 2012.
Guthrie won a seat in the Senate in November and the taxation committee unanimously voted to give it a hearing this time.
Guthrie said the legislation would protect the use of eminent domain for legitimate infrastructure needs. For example, condemnation could still be used for paths if they are adjacent to a highway, road or street.
"There are some key projects where eminent domain is appropriate, however painful it might be," he said. "Certainly, takings have to occur for roads and transmission and power lines and things like that. But trails for recreational use, in my opinion, doesn't fit that category."