Domain bill clears Senate: Jackson Hole WY Star-Tribune, 2/23/07

By Joan Barron

The [Wyoming] Senate passed an eminent domain reform bill Thursday after removing a sticking point for landowners.

House Bill 124 easily passed the Senate on a 25-4 vote. It now goes back to the House for a vote on Senate changes.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted an amendment from Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, to restrict comparisons of easement prices to the landowners' own property in determining fair market value.

On Thursday, the Senate adopted a two-word amendment that essentially negates Scott's amendment.

Offered by Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, and others, the new amendment allows an appraiser to consider the price paid for other comparable easements on the same “or similar” property in calculating fair market value.

Scott cautioned that the amendment was too broad and could invite lawsuits.

But Senate President John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said appraisals for easements are traditionally based on the price paid for similar land.

The Senate adopted Nicholas' amendment on a 15-14 standing vote.

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, fended off a second, significantly longer amendment offered by Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, to improve the wording in the bill on grounds it came in too late.

"I'm afraid of losing a good piece of work because we can't agree with the House,” Ross said.

After the vote, Laurie Goodman of the Landowners Association of Wyoming said Nicholas' two-word amendment was “crucial” and allows the landowners to continue to support the bill.

Her group has sought to increase the control of property owners in the eminent domain or condemnation process, including the way to determine fair market value of land sought by industry or government for a project.

The bill was drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case from Connecticut. In that case the court upheld the action of a public government entity which condemned private property and transferred it to a private entity for development. While many legislators claim the bill as written takes care of that case, Goodman disagrees.

The bill, however, is progress, she said.

"We'll see how it works,” Goodman said. “If, in fact, industry continues to draw a hard line, we'll have to come back and look at it.”

"For us, the big thing is we got a good bill through the Legislature," said Jim Magagna of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

The bill, he added, has a lot of things in it to help level the playing field between property owners and companies that have eminent domain powers to acquire easements on their land.

Ken Hamilton of the Wyoming Farm Bureau and Carolyn Paseneaux of the Wyoming State Grange said a coalition of representatives of agriculture and industry was responsible for getting the bill together.

Minerals industry and utility representatives argued from the beginning that the bill was not needed, Hamilton said.

"We've been criticized that we were too close to industry,” Magagna said.

The agricultural groups, he added, had to work with the minerals industry, utilities and others to bring the bill forward.

Magagna also pointed out that the coalition - often referred to by legislators as an industry group - included seven agriculture organizations.

Jackson Hole WY Star-Tribune: http://www.jacksonholestartrib.com