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Oregon lawmaker won’t pursue bill on governor taking land in emergencies

KTVZ file

Eugene Democrat says foes misunderstood effort to stop 'disaster profiteering'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – A one-page bill quietly introduced at the start of the Oregon Legislature has raised some eyebrows around the state, as it would add language to existing law, stating the governor would have the authority to seize “any real or personal property” after an emergency is declared.

The summary atop House Bill 2238, introduced by state Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, stated it “clarifies” the governor’s authority and later added, “An owner of property that is used or possessed only temporarily under this section is not entitled to compensation, except as the owner may prove entitlement to compensation” under Article I, Section 18 of the Oregon Constitution.

The bill also referred to ORS 401.188, which details "management of resources during emergency," including the governor's existing ability to issue, amend and enforce rules after declaring a state of emergency, such as rationing, freezing and the use of quotas.

Amid criticism by some of Gov. Brown’s COVID-19-related executive orders, the bill was bound to spark some questions and concern, had it advanced in Salem.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.  But Wilde told NewsChannel 21 late last week that his bill is not moving forward this session, due to “political opposition.”

"In fairness, I think folks have misunderstood exactly what the bill would and would not do," Wilde said.

Wilde’s office explained in a summary sent to NewsChannel 21 that the bill relates to the state’s eminent domain authority, which can be used to condemn property after a written offer, if it’s needed due to “an emergency that poses a threat to persons or property exists and that the immediate possession of the property is necessary.”

The background notes that such seizures are “often temporary, for example, using a farmer’s field for a fire camp.”

“Under this current law,” the summary stated, “there is a problem with disaster profiteering by landowners, because the state is required to make an offer as if (it plans) the taking of the land permanently during a time of emergency. This process can also delay … the state’s use of the land in an emergency to combat a fire, respond to an earthquake, etc. Also, the current law (is) unclear as to the impact if the courts are closed because of the emergency.”

The proposed legislation "removes the state’s requirement to file a condemnation action during an emergency if the taking of the property is only temporary,” the summary stated, stressing that the measure “does not remove anyone’s constitutional right … to just compensation for property taken for public use.”

If the owner is entitled, the state still would have to offer fair compensation and pay any damages. And as they can now, the owner can decline an offer they feel is inadequate and file what's called an "inverse condemnation" lawsuit.

But the summary concluded by stating that “HB 2238 is not moving forward this session.”

In an email that Wilde said he plans to send out to his constituents on Monday, the lawmaker said his “bill on emergency preparedness” in the wake of last fall’s devastating wildfires “has gotten some notice."

"As sometimes happens, it has been mischaracterized by interests that put private profiteering before the public good,” he wrote.

Wilde said he spent 26 years in military service on three continents and that while “the worst of times often brings out the best in people,” he "first ran into disaster profiteering in the Middle East,” which he called “a rat’s nest of overpriced contracts, the result of nepotism and ‘special deals’ with people tied to the local government. We terminated them and awarded new contracts that relied on fair competition and saved US tax dollars.”

“Most of the locals I met were patriots who were grateful that we were there to defend them, but others were in it to make a dishonest buck off of your taxes,” Wilde wrote.

“I also see profiteering in Oregon,” Wilde added, noting how the owners of property on the coast sought for emergency services equipment to be pre-positioned in the event of an earthquake “rejected two third-party, impartial estimates and demanded twice the value of the property.”

The lawmaker said “the difficulty in getting equipment out to the McKenzie fires got me looking at Oregon’s laws regarding temporary use of private property in an emergency. They’re not well set up to help us work together in an emergency,” as “temporary use of property is treated the same as a government ‘taking.’”

“The current requirements are a recipe for obstructionism by those who would profit from their neighbor’s need,” Wilde wrote.

“While the bill isn’t likely to move forward this session, I’ll keep fighting for the public interest and against those who seek to profit at your expense in an emergency,” he added.

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Comments

11 Comments

  1. “In fairness, I think folks have misunderstood exactly what the bill would and would not do,” Wilde said.”
    This is what all democrats want, on all levels.
    “(3) Take any other action, including through the seizure, use or possession of any real or personal property, that may be necessary for the management of resources following an emergency”.
    How are “folks” misunderstanding some very clear language?
    Great job, Barney. A very well written, informative piece.

  2. As “elpolloviejo” states and I wonder, is anyone else concerned about the “stating the governor would have the authority to seize “any real or personal property” after an emergency is declared.” phrase with the governor being the only one who gets to decide what the “emergency” is and when it is over? Then the follow up to clarify “The summary atop House Bill 2238, introduced by state Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, stated it “clarifies” the governor’s authority and later added, “An owner of property that is used or possessed only temporarily under this section is not entitled to compensation, except as the owner may prove entitlement to compensation” under Article I, Section 18 of the Oregon Constitution.” reads to me like IF the possession of the “property” is NOT temporary, the state will decide when/if you get the property back and when/if you will be compensated for the property, and how much if any you will be compensated for the “property”, the state being the entity deciding on the value of the “property”. Are there limits to what the state can call “personal property”?

  3. So I bet the “profiteering” he is referring to this last fall is in this manner? The state makes an offer, do they use fair market value or assessed value? Nobody wants to lose their land for half of what it’s worth especially if they have liens.

  4. The problem is Kate brown would never abide by the “intent” of this law just like she has ignored the intent of an “emergency measure”. She thinks everything is an emergency to justify her incompetent decisions without question

  5. How can you say the people “misunderstood” what this bill states when you have a Governor that can’t follow her own state constitution? Constitution states the Governor can declare an emergency up to 28 days with a 30 day extension if approved by the legislative branch. She never even got the extension approved by the legislative branch. People forget the executive branch can’t make laws, only the legislative branch can. Our government has acted unlawful on a number of occasions and you don’t think they wouldn’t take advantage of the wording in this bill?? People literally look to politicians and parties to save them, as if they can do NO wrong. Crazy!!!

  6. What will be Oregon’s next great “EMERGENCY”, it may well be all of the owners of rental property than can not pay their mortgages, because of the states decree, that renters no not have to pay their rent, now soon the banks will want, and need to start foreclosure on these properties, and it will be declared an emergency, so as not to throw all of these renters out into the streets that have not paid. The State, IE: Queen Brown has no solution, for this soon to be major problem.
    California, has already started to address this problem, with the passing of a bill that gives the State, first right of refusal on this type of property, it is the beginnings of a land grab.

  7. I find it very hard to believe when the emergency isn’t defined specifically for fires. I also don’t agree when talking about taking personal property including rationing. You won’t have my vote!

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