Bill would force government to reimburse citizens whose property it damages

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, at a meeting earlier this week. (Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service)

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Senate Bill 98 would mandate that if the government damages or takes away all or part of someone’s property, the government would have to reimburse the property owner.

The bill, which would create the Montana Property Fairness Act, cites the Montana Constitution, which declares that private property “shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation.”

Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, who’s carrying the bill, said the goal is to protect citizens.

“I am not concerned about protecting government agencies that potentially will do something wrong and it may cost them,” Smith said.

Many opponents took issue with what they said was vague language in the bill, like Kelly Lynch with the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

She said if the bill passes, “we would have a whole new set of regulations and standards that nobody understands yet, change all of case law as we know it. Everything will have to go through the courts for us to understand what we can and can’t do without paying for it.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard the bill Friday at the 2017 Montana Legislature.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.