A proposal to make government pay people for property values lost to land-use regulation passed the Republican House on Wednesday amid loud debate over its impact on public coffers.
Legislative Initiative 164 faces an uncertain future in the Democratic Senate, where leaders have said they would rather have voters decide the issue. If the Legislature failed to pass it, it automatically would go to voters in November.
The measure passed the House 69-27 after backers argued that state and local regulations have gone too far, and too many people are losing their property values to overly strict regulations.
Foes contended that the “takings” proposal, as it is called, would make even basic planning and zoning too expensive and lead to chaos or busted government budgets.
The proposal says that government must pay citizens the value of property lost to regulation unless the regulation’s purpose was to quell a public nuisance. It also would require regulators to prepare studies showing the economic impact of a proposed regulation on property owners, and further require regulators to select the regulation with the least impact.
Opponents argued that the power to quell a vaguely defined “public nuisance” would not be enough to avoid compensating property owners even in legitimate planning and zoning decisions. Backers simply disagreed, saying there are tools in the bill to avoid compensation for sensible regulations.
“For a decade, government has gone too far. This initiative turns that around,” said Rep. Bill Reams, R-Bellevue, the measure’s chief backer.
“No one argues with the fact that occasionally regulation is necessary, that property rights sometimes must be acquired by the government, but this has been going on far too much,” he said.
“Zoning will not affected,” Reams said. “I am convinced that the criticisms are overblown. If we do have problems, we will come back and revise it. That is the way of doing business.”
But Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, said the public would be stuck with a law that would diminish property values by permitting unwise development.
“This will be an absurd stick in the spokes” of community planning, he said. Several foes noted that the more than $200,000 spent in the initiative campaign came mostly from the building, timber and real estate sectors.
“Government is going to pay for this proposal, yes. But who pays for government? Of course, the people do,” said Rep. Nancy Rust, D-Seattle. “That’s right. The developer profits. The people pay.”
She and others urged colleagues to let the measure go to voters, giving the public time to reflect on its implications.
Reps. Dale Foreman, R-Wenatchee, and Mike Padden, R-Spokane, read into the record a lengthy statement spelling out the intent of the measure. Using court decisions and other information, they contended that the proposal would not require governments to retroactively compensate property owners whose property value had been diminished prior to passage.
The two also said the intent of the measure is not to compensate for reasonable regulations, such as those barring “filling of wetlands and placement of adult bookstores in neighborhoods.” They also said it would not “restrict local government in the exercise of police powers to protect public health and safety” through regulations.
The statement drew floor protests from Democrats, who said the majority had no right to assert the intent of legislation proposed by the people through initiative petition.
Appelwick said the statement was an effort “to redraft the bill … to create a ballot alternative” because backers know the measure is flawed.