Expanding the rights of property owners to collect damages for state and local government decisions is a good idea, a Bonner County commissioner says.
On Thursday the Idaho House of Representatives passed a measure giving property owners a new way to seek damages, without going to court, if a government decision reduces their property value more than 10 percent. The vote on House Bill 220 was 54-16.
Most of North Idaho’s delegation supported the measure. The exceptions were Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum, Jim Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, Larry Watson, D-Wallace and Tom Trail, R-Moscow.
The bill, now headed for the Senate, is modeled after a similar law passed in Florida in 1995. It establishes an arbitration system with a special master to act as judge.
Citizens must file a claim within 180 days of the allegedly damaging government decision. They also must provide appraisals, taken before and after the decision, proving the loss.
The bill could be costly to local government “where private property rights are determined to be inordinately burdened,” according to the legislature’s fiscal analysis of the measure.
At least one Bonner County commissioner, Larry Allen, likes what he knows about the legislation. “I believe it leaves us in a better situation,” Allen said. “It requires us to think twice before passing regulations.”
He doesn’t worry that it may lead to counties paying out big damages.
“It says to local government we have to be more careful in considering what we are doing,” Allen said. “If you go into it with the right philosophy, you won’t have any problems.”
Indeed, Allen and Bonner County Commissioner Bud Mueller have been pushing for deregulation since taking office in January. They dismantled the county building department and dismissed its employees.
Allen and Mueller also voted down proposed zoning regulations designed to protect the springs supplying drinking water to Oldtown, Idaho, and Newport, Wash. The regulations threatened private property rights, they argued.
That and other actions have elicited at least four lawsuits and may threaten the county’s insurance coverage.
Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Compton, however, doesn’t believe the measure is necessary. “In our county, it looks like a solution looking for a problem,” Compton said.
Attorneys who have evaluated the bill say it is so convoluted that litigation will flourish as a result, he said.
The bill raises questions about who will cover the cost of the new appeals and the special master, Compton said. Meanwhile, the county commissioners already fill the role of a special master, considering zoning appeals and other matters that property owners feel negatively affect their property.
“We try to be sensitive to that and if people don’t like us, they can get rid of us,” Compton said.
Idaho state law also already allows for compensation if a government regulation or decision causes such harm to a person’s property, he added.