Lacey: 'I think using eminent domain for recreational purposes is improper'
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- An Idaho rancher's bill that sought to protect private property rights by limiting government's use of eminent domain is dead after a Senate committee voted 5-4 against it Feb. 5.
Supporters say the bill was designed to protect farmers and other landowners from the use of eminent domain to seize land for trails, paths, greenways and walking, running, hiking equestrian or bicycling use.
The deciding vote was cast by Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, who said he agonized over whether to support the bill. Lacey offered an alternative motion that sought middle ground on the issue, but that motion was defeated and he took a long pause before voting against the bill.
"I think using eminent domain for recreational purposes is improper," he said after the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee decided against the bill following a lengthy public hearing where 16 people testified.
But he said he was persuaded by public testimony about the use of some trails to provide safe pathways for school children.
"I went with the safety of the children," he said. "It was a very tough decision to make."
Public testimony on the bill was heavily against it, except for Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and the Idaho Association of Realtors, which supported the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Guthrie, a Republican rancher from McCammon.
Those who testified against it said landowners who have their property seized through eminent domain receive just compensation, but Guthrie said landowners sometimes pay a lot of money for land for privacy reasons and government shouldn't be allowed to seize it for recreational uses.
"There are times when no amount of money is just compensation," he said. The bill "is not an anti-greenway issue. It is a private property rights issue."
IFBF lobbyist Dennis Tanikuni told lawmakers the group has nothing against bike or walking paths but thinks eminent domain power should be limited to purposes that are absolutely essential to the public good.
"IFBF does not think the taking of an individual's private property for a bike path or hiking trail through the exercise of eminent domain meets that objective," he said. "When considering all aspects of this issue, Idaho Farm Bureau thinks private property rights should prevail."
Representatives of several major cities testified against the bill, arguing that greenways and other pathways sometimes serve legitimate transportation and safety needs and the decision of whether to use eminent domain in these cases should remain at the local level.
Roger Ashby, a planner for the city of Caldwell, said eminent domain in these situations would be a last resort, "but we would hope you trust the locally elected officials and people of a community to make these decisions."
This is the third year Guthrie has introduced the bill and each time it has failed to get past a Senate committee.