Property Rights Update

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Property Rights Update

by Ari Armstrong, April 14, 2006

Following the Supreme Court's supremely unpopular Kelo decision that allows the forcible transfer of property for economic purposes, now is the perfect time to reform eminent domain laws at the state level. In Colorado, a petition drive is underway. In addition, House Concurrent Resolution 1001, "Taking of Private Property," sponsored by Representative Al White and Senator Lois Tochtrop, would (at least in its original wording) accomplish the same goal as the petition: stop the taking of private property for purposes of economic development.

I have two worries. First, the resolution, which might not pass, may be undermining the incentive to gather signatures for the petition. Second, the petition drive may not have the finances and organization to guarantee the gathering of sufficient signatures. So now is the time for Coloradans who care about property rights to step up.

There is good news. On April 8, Tom and Kathy Fauth, activists with Colorado Citizens for Property Rights, sent out an e-mail that quoted Carol Hill of Leadville: "FYI -- just came from the Lake County Dem. Party Gen. Assembly, where I was a delegate from my precinct caucus. At the caucus I introduced a resolution asking our city council and county commissioners and the Dem. Party to support legislation (at the local, state, and, maybe someday at the federal level) that will prevent the use (abuse) of the eminent domain power for economic development, which passed instantly and unanimously... I am also a delegate to the State Convention in Greeley next month, where I will continue my efforts to make this a pivotal issue in the next election."

I called Hill to verify authenticity of the e-mail. She added, "eminent domain seems to have no party" -- its reform is supported by people across the political spectrum. "People are pretty upset about it," she said; "I barely got the word 'Kelo' out of my mouth" before Democrats at the meeting were clamoring for reform. Hill, a former member of her city council (who used to be a Libertarian but is now a Democrat), said she also expects to see local action on the issue.

Hill is carrying the petition at her store, the Book Mine in Leadville.

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While the reform of eminent domain is the single most important property-rights issue in Colorado this year, it is not the only one.

Governor Bill Owens again proved that he is an enemy of property rights when he signed a statewide smoking ban. The Rocky Mountain News reports (March 28), "Gov. Bill Owens signed a statewide smoking ban into law Monday, meaning that July 1, Colorado will become the 13th state to prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars and in most indoor public places."

The law violates the rights of every private property owner, patron, and employee who wants to freely associate with smokers.

Recently I wrote a column for Boulder Weekly about the issue. I explicitly argued against smoking bans on the basis of property rights. Yet, in the April 6 edition, Cody Vaudrin totally ignores the fact that the smoking ban violates the rights of private property (along with the rights of contract and association).

Vaudrin writes, "[C]igarette smoking is easy to control, and a ban positively impacts both smokers and the unlucky bystanders who are forced to tolerate their toxic habit." Vaudrin's statement is a blatant lie. Nobody is "forced" to tolerate smoke in any private establishment. If you enter an establishment that allows smoking, either as a customer or as an employee, you do so by free choice. The only force involved here is the force imposed by the nanny statists through their smoking ban.

Amanda C. Sutterer writes in the April 12 Broomfield Enterprise of a specific injustice caused by the smoking bans: "After spending $32,000 to create a smoking room that complied with Broomfield's non-smoking ordinance, bar owner Lenore Lyon wants the city to help her redeem her investment. Broomfield passed a non-smoking ordinance in April 2004. In October of that year, Lyon built the $32,000 smoking room in an effort to retain her smoking patrons. But Lyon, owner of Zoosters... fears she won't be able to make her money back because of the state-wide smoking ban, which was signed into law March 27... [S]tate law supersedes city ordinances that are less restrictive, Assistant City and County Manager Tonya Haas said."

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Bill Scanlon details yet another violation of property rights in the April 14 Rocky Mountain News. He writes, "Megan Forbes cooled her heels in jail for a few hours Sunday, long enough for her to rue installing the wrong kind of garage door behind her historic home and then failing to answer a summons on the municipal violation... Forbes lives in a 106-year-old house in the Mapleton Hill Historic District. Two years ago, she decided to replace the old horizontal sliding door on her detached alley-side garage with a newer vinyl one. Uh-oh. That was a violation of a city ordinance that requires owners of homes in historic districts to get a 'landmark alteration' certificate for such work. Assistant City Attorney Janet Michels noted that Forbes didn't go to jail because she installed the wrong kind of door but because she failed to appear in court to explain why she didn't answer a summons issued by the preservation board."

But Forbes wasn't much concerned about this violation of property rights: "The law's the law and you have to make sure you're doing everything right." (Scanlon attributes the quote to a Daily Camera report.) Of course, there's nothing stopping citizens from voluntarily following guidelines for historic preservation, or from buying up properties in order to preserve their historic character. The violation of rights comes in forcing property owners to do such things against their judgment. The fact that the Boulder woman was uncritical of her arrest is of little comfort to those who do not wish to be subject to bureaucratic control, fines, summons, arrest, and jail for the "crime" of exercising ownership over their own property.

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