Controversial eminent domain cases are cropping up across the country, and now an Idaho lawmaker is attempting to give embattled landowners a tool in their fight against the government.
State Senator Chuck Winder (R-Boise) has proposed a bill which would leave the government agency on the financial hook for eminent domain court costs 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.
The bill, SB 1309, passed the Idaho House and Senate unanimously this month and apparently is set to become law.
The Idaho senator feels that is it wrong to fiscally penalize a landowner 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, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Eminent domain legal proceedings are often expensive for landowners to fight and include prolonged court hearings.
Boise lawyer Heather Cunningham, who often represents landowners, said government agencies can effectively force landowners 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.
She told IdahoReporter.com, “I’ve seen scenarios in which government agencies drag things out so long that a property owner is damaged and at some point it’s too late for them to be compensated fairly. This bill can really help the plight of property owners.”
The Idaho Senator’s eminent domain legislation would be a great benefits to landowners who want to retain their land, Winder said.
“What we’re trying to accomplish here is fairly straightforward,” he said. “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.”
The eminent domain compensation bill states that the government shall “reimburse [the] owner for his reasonable costs, disbursement and expenses, including reasonable attorney appraisal and expert fees.”
Ada County Highway District gave advice on the 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.