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Maine Bill Aimed at Settling Land 'Takings' Disputes Rejected
06/17/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

The Maine Senate and House have defeated a measure to set up a new system to mediate disputes with the state over so-called private property "takings." Takings occur when state regulations prevent landowners from using their property in a certain way, therby lessening its value. Opponents of the bill argued it would create more confusion around Maine's land use process. But supporters maintained the state's current land use policies have been especially harmful to property owners - like farmers - with large tracts of land. Jay Field reports.

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Bill Aimed at Settling Land 'Takings' Disputes Rej Listen
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Some of the landowners who've complained the loudest live in Sen. Ronald Collins' district. Collins, a Republican, represents District 2, which includes a handful of towns in western York County.

"Now, this may not be a terrifically important thing to some people who own a simple house, a house lot that's probably three acres or so," Collins said. "But for large property owners, such as in the western part of my district, farmers essentially, they've lost the value of their property."

A farmer, for example, may want to build an additional structure on his property, but the project may be found to violate state environmental regulations. So, from the landowner's point of view, state rules are making it impossible to increase the value of the property.

Collins says all the calls and e-mails he's received, highlighting these kinds of situations, moved him to sponsor LD 1450. "What this bill, LD 1450, attempts to do, is to put up a grievance panel to review such claims," he said.

But last week, a majority of members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee recommended that the bill be rejected. In testimony before the committee, a coalition of groups argued that setting up a special panel to mediate regulatory disputes would ultimately give private landowners too much power to circumvent laws to protect the environment and public health and safety.

Sen. Linda Valentino, a York Democrat, reiterated some of the logistical concerns she says the bill raises. "The law is certain to increase litigation, to burden the courts and to cast a cloud of uncertainty over future actions of the Legislature and state agencies, because of unclear processes and problematic exemptions," Valentino said.

Lawmakers pointed to other states around the nation, where similar laws have already led to more lawsuits. Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat, argued the law would amount to an unfunded mandate.

"I certainly understand that if people lose valuation, then maybe they should be made whole," Jackson said. "But until we create a fund to do that, I don't know that I'm in favor of the law the way it currently is written."

Both the Maine Senate and House voted the bill down Monday. Similar measures have been defeated in past legislative sessions, though, and that hasn't stopped supporters from trying again.



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