Senator Chuck Winder (Republican – Boise) proposed an eminent domain bill which would leave governmental agencies on the financial hook for eminent domain court costs for property owners in specific situations. The fees any state entity would owe if they change the terms of land seizure or end the litigation in a property seizure case, would include expenses related to the hiring of expert witnesses or engineers, and attorney fees.
Eminent domain legal proceedings are often expensive for land owners to fight and include prolonged court hearings. Before the property rights bill reaches the floor of the full Idaho State Senate, an amendment to the legislation requiring that the reimbursement costs are paid in a "reasonable amount of time" will likely be added. The Idaho Senator feels that is it wrong to fiscally penalize a land owner for attempting to fight for their property rights. "It truly is an issue of fairness for the property owner. We're basically trying to make sure the property owner receives proper compensation for verified costs," Winder told members of the state senate.
Boise eminent domain lawyer Heather Cunningham feels that government agencies can effectively force land owners to end their opposition to land seizures by continually making changes to their plans and pushing court costs higher by requiring seemingly endless responses and filings until the citizen has exhausted their financial means. "It's made it uneconomically feasible for those property owners to ever get their day in court or continue," Cunningham said.
The Idaho Senator's eminent domain legislation would require government agencies to pay legal fees quacking, and therefore aiding the property owner who wants to keep funding their opposition battle and retain their land.
The eminent domain compensation bill states in part that a public entity should "amend the project after commencing litigation and the owner of the real property has actually incurred costs, disbursements, expenses and/or attorney's fees relating to issues that are rendered moot by such amendment, the court shall upon motion by the property owner award such sum as will in the opinion of the court reimburse such owner for his reasonable costs."
Senator Winder also had this to say about the eminent domain legislation pending in Idaho:
"What we're trying to accomplish here is fairly straightforward. If the owner ends up paying legal fees or fees for engineers or other professional experts, that person should have a means of being compensated."According to Senator Wender, some dispute about the bill did exist between "various stakeholder groups" around the state, but the lawmaker now believes that those differences have been reconciled.
Ada County Highway District lawyers helped draft the land seizure bill. Attorney Steve Price said that even though the legislation might result in his agency handing over money to property owners, he still backs the proposal. "We recognize there's a problem out there with the way condemnation occurs. We've worked hard to make sure this piece of legislation strikes a balance between taxpayer as well as property owners in really addressing that problem," Price said.
[Image Via: The Bell Towers]