Senate passes property rights bill


LITTLE ROCK — Legislation that would allow compensation to private property owners whose property loses fair market value because of a government regulation barely cleared the Senate on Wednesday.

The Senate also approved, 31-1, House Bill 1187 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, which would prohibit a public servant or governmental body from spending public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure. The proposal would not prohibit verbal expressions of views supporting or opposing ballot measures. It goes to the governor.

The property rights measure, Senate Bill 367 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, passed 18-13 with no votes to spare and goes to the House.

“The purpose of this is to re-establish the balance that needs to be there between those who want to regulate … property for public good and the individual land owner,” Hendren told Senate colleagues.

Sens. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, and David Johnson, D-Little Rock, countered that the measure could curb zoning by local governments and hinder any potential agreement in the ongoing Maumelle watershed debate.

Under the bill, if a property owner can successfully demonstrate in court that the fair market value of his or her property has been reduced by at least 10 percent by state or city regulation, law or ordinance, the owner would be owed that amount, Hendren said.

“This bill does not prohibit zoning,” Hendren said. “It does not prohibit regulation. It does not prohibit anything you can’t do now.”

Thompson said the bill was broad and that it would make zoning at the local level more difficult.

Johnson suggested that if a land owner in the Lake Maumelle watershed planned to build a certain number of homes per acre, but Pulaski County set the limit lower, the property owner could go to court arguing the regulation caused him or her to lose money.

Hendren said that would be up to a jury to decide.

Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, said he was having a difficult time opposing the bill “because it would be perceived as voting against private property rights.”

Hendren said the bill would “help some farmer out there on 200 acres, who has had his farm for generations with the intent of being able to build homes for his kids and his grand kids, but then for the public good we decide that we’re prohibiting him from building on that property, after he has already held that land for generations.”

Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday approved:

• HB 1458 by Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, which would allow a person to use an electronic device to show proof of a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The bill passed 89-0 and goes to the Senate.

• HB 1384 by Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, which would require a caregiver who is placed in a patient’s home by a Medicaid program to undergo drug tests and criminal background checks. The bill passed 91-1 and goes to the Senate.

• HB 1517 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, which would require that hiring preference be given to a veteran who applies for a job with a school district. Arkansas law currently requires that hiring preference be given to a veteran who applies for a job with a state agency or institution of higher education. The bill passed 72-8 and goes to the Senate.

• HB 1216 by Rep. Kelly Linck, R-Yellville, which would make Internet publication the primary means of distributing state agency publications. The bill passed 81-7 and goes to the Senate.

• HB 1124 by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock. Under the bill, health care benefits being paid to a member of the Arkansas State Highway Employees’ Retirement System who is receiving benefits under any reciprocal system or systems would be prorated to mesh with the other systems. The bill passed 56-17 and goes to the Senate.

• SB 227 by Files, which would permit an alcohol wholesaler to store alcohol in a dry territory. The bill passed 74-5 and goes to the governor.

In voice votes, the House and Senate passed House Resolution 1016 by Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, and Senate Resolution 16 by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, congratulating the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears Volleyball Team for an outstanding 2012 season.