MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 17, 2014

Municipal officials out to fight bill

Private-property rights measure would hinder municipal actions, they argue

Municipal leaders are organizing against pending state legislation that they say would hamstring efforts to conduct routine business.

House Bill 2807 purports to provide protection to private property rights. But city officials say the bill in its current form “would have a chilling impact on state and local government actions.”

“The bill strictly protects the ‘unrestricted right of use, right of control, right of enjoyment and right of disposal of purchased or deeded private property,’” City Attorney Roy Tucker said. “Though this may seem to be a laudable goal on its face, it would create an opposing effect on community protection by prohibiting any enforcement of zoning regulations, building, fire codes and the like.”

Tucker said zoning codes, ordinances and other regulations are established to “protect property values, community aesthetics, and public safety.” Those goals are accomplished by trying to rid communities “of weeds, trash, dilapidated buildings, as well as avoid dangers that building, plumbing, electrical and fire codes are designed to prevent,” he said.

The bill, which its sponsors dub the Oklahoma Community Protection Act, would expand the definition of due process to include “a vote of the people.” The traditional definition gives owners of property affected by governmental action a right of notice and an opportunity to be heard.

Oklahoma Municipal League officials, who lobby on behalf of towns and cities across the state, said passage of the bill would require a popular vote on everything from traffic laws to oil and gas regulations. The bill also would prohibit the state or any of “its political subdivisions from adopting or implementing policy recommendations ‘originating or traceable to any international or federal’ sources.”

“This means that Oklahoma public entities would not be able to satisfy requirements for any federal funding, nor would they be able to comply with any federal laws or rules, including court orders,” OML representatives state in a fact sheet sent to members in an effort to defeat the measure. That could result in the state, counties and cities receiving “no transportation dollars, no Medicaid dollars, no federal grants or loans.”

Tucker said the bill would preserve the power of eminent domain, but “it eviscerates the authority granted to cities and towns under other statutes to promote economic development through urban renewal and rehabilitation.”

“The city currently is in the process of working toward rehabilitating and removing blight from an area along the Shawnee Bypass through the Urban Renewal Authority,” Tucker said. “If this bill is signed into law, it would undermine and stifle our ability to attract any development to that area, allowing the blight to remain.”

House Bill 2807, sponsored by Rep. Lewis H. Moore, R-Arcadia, was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and forwarded for consideration by the full Senate.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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