Eminent domain bills target mining, feds

The mining industry and the federal government were targets of two eminent domain bills taken up by a Nevada Assembly committee Wednesday. While one seeks to curtail an industry's power to take private property, the other would invoke the rule against Nevada's largest landowner.

AB180 would strip the state's mining industry of powers that allow it to acquire private property for mineral extractions. A similar bill has already been approved by the Senate.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, said the intent is to amend his bill into the Senate version, SB86, sponsored by Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. That bill also would repeal eminent domain rights from Nevada's now defunct sugar beet industry.

Horne told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that he considered amending his bill to allow counties to invoke eminent domain on behalf of mining concerns as a way to help preserve their ability to expand and create jobs.

But he decided against it, referencing in part a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006 and 2008 that prevents governments from transferring property taken from one private party to another private party for development.

"I think it's a circumvention of our constitution," he said. "If you just allow the county to say, 'Hey, this mine needs it.' ... It's the same thing."

Eminent domain became an issue last summer when a Canadian-based mining company settled with investment owners of an Elko County ranch after the mining company cited the law in seeking access to mineral rights on ranch land.

Residents of Silver City, a small town in Nevada's historic Comstock District, also spoke in favor of AB180. Many said they fear a mining company doing exploration in the town could use eminent domain to take their homes and property.

Another bill, AB186, seeks to allow the state to invoke eminent domain to acquire property managed or controlled by the federal government for renewable energy projects.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, said trying to get land from the federal government is a cumbersome process that is stymieing energy development.

The federal government owns roughly 83 percent of all land in Nevada.

Goedhart said that while Nevada may have open spaces ripe for development of wind and solar projects, the realization is that "Nevada has a lot of land but it's not open for biz."

He said his bill builds upon Assembly Joint Resolution 10, sponsored by former Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, that was approved by the 2009 Legislature. That measure urged Congress to convey ownership of certain lands to the state for renewable energy development.

But Horne, the committee chairman, and others questioned the constitutionality of the bill.

"I don't see where Nevada has the power to do a taking against the federal government," Horne said.

Utah passed a similar proposal last year and set up a legal fund to defend against a lawsuit if one is filed. That state has not yet tried to take property from the federal government.

Some committee members in Nevada suggested waiting to see how the measure plays out in its neighboring state.

No committee action was taken Wednesday on either bill.


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