A group of Arizonans who call themselves the “Orange Coalition” are behind three measures that would bolster individual property rights and secure state control of water within its borders.
The coalition, which formed two years ago to oppose the misuse of eminent domain, is urging the Legislature to pass bills that would create more protections for people whose property is taken forcibly by the government, and guarantee more relocation assistance for those who are displaced when the government takes property.
The coalition also wants the Legislature to pass a ballot referendum, SCR1046, and launch a pre-emptive strike against any attempt by the federal government to assert control over intrastate waterways such as streams, tributaries, lakes and ponds.
All three measures were sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Gray. Senate committees have endorsed two of them; the third is scheduled for a hearing next week.
The Senate Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt Committee approved SCR1046 on Feb. 16. All Republicans voted for it; all Democrats voted against it.
If the Legislature and voters approve the measure, it would amend the Arizona Constitution to declare that the state has sole jurisdiction over bodies of water that lie completely within state borders.
Orange Coalition leaders said the ballot measure was intended as a response to a congressional bill filed by U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that would amend the 1972 Clean Water Act by removing “navigable waters” from the federal law and replacing it with “waters of the United States.”
Mark Killian, a former House speaker who is the Orange Coalition’s campaign chairman, said Congress is trying to grab more control of waterways.
“When you look over time, the courts have generally held that the states are responsible for most of the waterways,” he said. “If you yank that power away from the state and give it to the federal government, then all of a sudden you have people in San Francisco or Washington, D.C. making decisions about Arizona waterways and how we handle our water.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Gray’s S1363 on Feb. 15.
The bill would provide additional protections in the law to ensure fair compensation for people whose property is taken forcibly by the government. It also requires a public hearing and a public vote before any government body can follow through on eminent domain actions.
If a state agency wants to take private property, the governor must sign the paperwork.
S1366 is set for a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 22.
The bill would expand the relocation-assistance requirements in eminent domain actions. It would, for instance, ensure that people who are displaced by an eminent domain project would receive greater benefit from the project than the general public. It also requires relocation assistance to be provided for owners of property near an eminent domain project to compensate for financial injury caused by the project.
Gray said S1363 and S1366 were intended to make sure the government doesn’t abuse its power to take property.
“Government is supposed to protect to protect our property, but in some cases, they haven’t done that,” he said. “So we have these bills to make sure that we protect those property rights through various methodologies.”