We are proud to report that this session saw positive outcomes for improving Montanan’s property rights.
“We were able to enact several positive changes that protect and enhance our property rights,” said Chuck Denowh, UPOM’s Policy Director. “And we successfully stopped every piece of legislation that attempted to take away our rights.”
Positive legislation that passed included SB 207 and HB 523, measures that clarified the rights of property owners related to archeological surveys conducted for common carrier pipelines and irrigation ditches.
Another positive bill was SB 286, which allows landowners to negotiate for one-way attorneys fees in an easement agreement when the opposing party has condemnation authority. SB 286 will give landowners who are being threatened with condemnation an additional tool to ensure they are treated fairly and are not prevented by onerous legal costs from filing suit for breach of contract.
Our scorecard also highlights positive efforts aimed at improving wildlife habitat and increasing opportunities for sportsmen. HB 597 creates a voluntary contribution account that will be used to purchase recreational access easements across private land. HB 434 will foster better wildlife habitat by allowing for the use of federal funds to control noxious weeds on public land.
The sponsors of positive bills were recognized by UPOM as Property Rights Heroes for their steadfast support of private property rights. This session’s Property Rights Heroes include Senator Eric Moore (Miles City), Senator Cary Smith (Billings), Senator Steve Hinebauch (Wibaux), Rep. Kelly Flynn (Townsend), Rep. Kerry White (Bozeman), and Rep. Alan Doane (Bloomfield).
Denowh emphasized that while these new laws were all incremental changes in the right direction, more significant measures failed to pass and will continue to be a focus for the organization moving forward.
Among the bills that did not make it through the legislature was SB 98, the Property Ownership Fairness Act. SB 98 would have restored the takings clause of the Montana Constitution by required government entities to compensate landowners for actions that result in property devaluations.
“Establishing the regulatory takings framework in Montana law remains our top priority,” said Denowh. “The Montana Constitution guarantees the right to compensation for owners when property is ‘damaged’ in any way. We’re going to continue to fight to see that right upheld.”
Other priority legislation that failed to make its way through the process included additional protections for landowners facing condemnation for common carrier pipelines; a bill that would have created a civil cause of action for trespassing by aerial drones; and legislation that would have allowed absentee landowners to vote in school district elections.
Our scorecard also identifies several attempts to erode property rights. A series of bills (SB 262, HB 295, SB 358, HB 662 and HB 243) were aimed at confiscating private roads on private land for public use, going so far as to attempt to ban gates on private land and to decriminalize trespassing on private property in certain cases.
UPOM’s 2017 legislative scorecard can be downloaded at www.upom.org.