by George Smith
One of the most contentious and complicated bills of this legislative session resulted into a worthy compromise endorsed by the Judiciary Committee on March 8.
Recognizing that the government should not be able to take most of the value of private property without compensating the owner, the legislature has been wrestling with LD 1810, Rep. Andre Cushing’s “takings” bill.
Rep. Cushing said his bill “would allow a landowner to file a complaint if a state regulation decreases the value of his or her property by more than half. If the landowner has a valid claim, then the state could compensate the owner with payment based upon a professional appraisal or with a variance to exempt the property from the new law.”
The bill had a lot of support from powerful interests including real estate developers, the Maine Forest Products Council, the Maine Farm Bureau, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, and others.
On the other side of the line were the state’s major environmental groups. Pete Didisheim with the Natural Resources Council of Maine told the Lewiston Sun’s Steve Mistler that LD 1810 is a “radical bill,” a “first-in-the-nation experiment” that creates “a new entitlement for landowners” who would be able to seek payments from Maine taxpayers for asserted losses in property values.
Lots of people weighed in on the complex issue and the summary of the public hearing ran to 14 pages. The original bill had significant problems but there was an over-riding desire to do something on the issue.
That something turned out well when Representatives Brad Moulton and Charles Priest, a Republican and Democrat respectively who both serve on the Judiciary Committee, proposed a compromise amendment. A bunch of people deserves credit for collaborating on this amendment, including Senator Tom Saviello, Representative Bob Duchesne, and Pete Didisheim.
The Moulton/Priest amendment creates a Committee on Regulatory Fairness to provide a forum for ongoing legislative review of the effectiveness and fairness of land use laws and regulations. The Committee would regularly review information from the Attorney General of public comments that a rule might result in a potential taking of real property.
This Committee will receive information from landowners about these concerns, including farmers and woodlot owners, and will have the authority to submit legislation changing land use laws. The Land Use Mediation Program â ironically targeted for elimination by Governor LePage â would stay in place and expand, making sure that landowners are aware of this service.
Last Thursday, the Judiciary Committee endorsed the Moulton/Priest amendment. It will now proceed to the full House and Senate. It won the endorsement of most interests, including the Maine Municipal Associatio, a strong opponent of the original bill. A minority of committee members will offer an amendment that is similar to the original bill.
Tough issue. Good result â awaiting the decision of the full legislature and Governor LePage.