Unless proponents of the takings bill step up to support changes in their proposal, the issue is likely to die in the Maine Senate.
Here’s the situation.
Two versions of the bill emerged from the Judiciary Committee. The majority report limits action to a mediation process and legislative scrutiny, for landowners who believe more than half the value of their land has been taken by new state laws or rules. The minority report adds a litigious process that allows the landowner to sue the state.
The minority report was rammed through the House, surviving by a single vote when Representative Gary Knight changed his no vote to yes (see my blog post about that debacle here). It stalled in the Senate, after an ugly post-midnight debate, when that body recessed to May 15.
Since then, two things have happened. Less Fossel, the principle author of the majority report, has worked to simplify his bill. Another group of Senate and House members, including proponents of both reports, got together to explore a compromise. Fossel was not involved in the second group.
Fossel emailed me yesterday with his ideas. Here’s what he wrote.
“My personal approach is the following: 1) that any takings payments are in trade for a permanent conservation easement on the property involved; 2) that the Land for Maine Future bond fund it. If there is no money in that fund, then the law is suspended.
“If you think about it, this would target easement monies at the most vulnerable properties. It would also do a much better job of protecting the environment with the limited funding available. It would also bring farmers and wood lot owners on the side of the environmental lobby. It would greatly improve the odds of a LMF bond getting through the Legislature – which are very low currently.”
I like and admire Fossel. He’s an intelligent and hard-working legislator. But his newest idea is a bad one. The Land for Maine’s Future Fund is dedicated to protecting and enhancing working waterfronts, farms, and valuable wildlife habitat and recreational property. It should not be diverted to pay for easements on lands where the landowner wins a lawsuit against the state based on a new takings law. There is no guarantee that those lands would fit the LMF’s current goals – each of which addresses a critical need.
The most promising development came from the group of House and Senate members who got together to explore a compromise. I have promised not disclose their names, at this point, because this is a work in progress. Eventually, I will be able to do that.
The group worked with the majority report, to make it better, and came up with some excellent ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas were rejected by the legislators who support the minority report. And that’s where this effort ended. There is currently no proposal to amend either report, and neither report has enough votes to pass in the Senate.
Stalemate. End of Story. Well, not quite.
It is possible – if the groups that have been pushing the takings issue – step up to support the effort to improve the majority report – it might garner enough votes in the Senate to move forward, back to the House, and enactment in both bodies.
Those groups include the Maine Forest Products Council, Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, and Maine Farm Bureau.
From what I’ve learned, I think it comes down to this. Both reports fail in the Senate. Or proponents of the minority report give it up, and work with opponents of that report to improve the majority report to the point it can be enacted.