HELENA – The last major eminent domain reform bill in the Legislature stalled today in a key Senate committee. The fate of private transmission line companies’ ability to exercise eminent domain for major projects will now be left to the courts.
The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee voted 8-4 to table House Bill 198 after a motion to pass the bill on to the full Senate failed on a 6-6 vote.
Supporters of the bill, which would give commercial utilities the ability to take private property for public uses such as transmission lines, are doubtful that there are enough votes in the 50-member Senate to blast the bill on to the floor. That means the bill is likely dead.
Eminent domain has been one of the most hotly debated issues of the 2011 Legislature, with lawmakers lining up either on the side of private property rights or new energy development.
Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said he voted against bringing the measure to the floor because the major parties on both sides of the issue refused to hammer out a compromise.
“This whole bill has been a really high stakes game of poker between a couple of adversaries who have been at absolute loggerheads and unwilling to move toward each other,” Essmann said, adding that the issue will be left up to the courts to decide.
Democratic Sen. Ron Erickson of Missoula was the only Democrat on the panel to vote in favor of the bill, saying that the only way Montana will produce more green energy is if transmission line companies have the ability to exercise eminent domain to build lines across private property.
“I’m afraid that if HB198 does not pass that we will dampen, at least for a while and perhaps permanently, wind energy out of this state,” Erickson said.
The remaining four Democrats on the panel sided with Republican Sens. Jason Priest, of Red Lodge, and Essmann in voting against the measure.
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