Montana Senate Backs Eminent Domain Rollback

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Montana Senate backed a measure Tuesday that would repeal some of the powers of eminent domain granted by the 2011 Legislature.

Senate Bill 180 would roll back the law that gave public utility companies and other energy development companies the right to purchase private property for public use. The bill is designed to appease landowners upset at the prospect of companies seizing privately held lands.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Debby Barrett, R-Dillon, said the 2011 Legislature made a mistake in granting utilities the power of eminent domain. More than 40 states have laws limiting the seizure of private property for economic development, she said.

“It is time for the Montana Legislature to finally get it right and to protect private property owners in rural areas of the state from private developers,” Barrett said.

The 2005 Montana Legislature passed laws protecting city dwellers’ private property from private developers, and Barrett asked the Senate to do the same for rural residents. Other supporters of Barrett’s bill said private companies have abused eminent domain and hurt small farmers and Native Americans in the past.

Opponents of the bill argued for consistency and said repealing the 2011 measure would discourage investment in the state.

Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said the 2011 law doesn’t deprive people of their property rights without a chance to be heard. Pipelines, transmission lines and a railroad run through his own property, yet he opposes Barrett’s bill.

The bill passed an initial vote 28-22. It must pass a final vote before moving to the House.

In a separate effort to appease landowners, the House also endorsed a measure that tinkers with the eminent domain process. House Bill 417, backed Tuesday with a 93-6 initial vote, would add another negotiating step prior to official eminent domain proceedings.

The bill needs to pass a final vote before moving to the Senate.

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