Story Published: Feb 2, 2007
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The Washington Senate, seeking to strengthen protections for property owners, voted Friday to require governments to give clear notice to private citizens who stand to lose their property to condemnation for public projects.
Senators also endorsed plans for a new state veterans' cemetery in Eastern Washington, and approved college tuition waivers for children and spouses of military and National Guard members permanently injured or killed in Iraq and other conflicts.
The upper chamber unanimously approved a measure requiring more rigorous notification of citizens before their property is condemned through eminent domain for a public purpose.
Senate Bill 5444 is a reaction to a state Supreme Court decision involving Barbara and Ken Miller, who had property in south Tacoma condemned by Sound Transit to make way for a parking lot for a train station.
Sound Transit had posted a notice on its Web site of the meeting where the condemnation action would be taken. The Millers never saw the notice, and appealed. But the high court held that the Web site posting satisfied the notice requirement.
The Miller family was in the galleries as the measure passed. Senators applauded them.
The bill would require state agencies, cities and counties, school districts and other government entities to send certified letters to property owners before voting to take their property. It would also require publication of advance notice of the meeting in the largest area newspaper.
The issue has drawn a strong, bipartisan following and is expected to pass early in the session. Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna jointly requested the bill.
The prime sponsor in the Senate is a Republican, Mike Carrell of Lakewood. Democrats Lynn Kessler of Hoquiam and Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim are sponsoring the House version, which received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
The bill came too late to help the Millers. But during Friday's brief Senate debate, Carrell said the bill corrects an injustice for those who find themselves in similar situations.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the Senate was striking a blow for due process.
"Fairness dictates that when someone is going to take your property for a public purpose, you need better notice than the Millers got," he said.
In a recent statement, McKenna said citizens don't typically scan government Web sites to see if their property is threatened.
"It's not asking too much to require that a $4.64 certified letter be sent to property owners who may have their property taken without their consent," he said.
The Senate also approved:
-A new $8 million state veterans' cemetery near Spokane for the estimated 140,000 veterans in Eastern Washington. The national Tahoma cemetery near Kent is available for all veterans, but a more convenient site east of the Cascades is needed for many families, said Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane. State, federal and local dollars, including proceeds from a state armed forces license plate, would maintain the facility.
-Free state college tuition for children and spouses of military and guard members killed or permanently disabled in war. Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, Walla Walla, said the college help is "the least we can do for those families who are left behind." Senate Higher Education Chairman Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, called it "one kind deed" to help dependents who have sacrificed so much.
-A "streamlined" sales tax system, joining with 21 other states in an easier, more uniform system for remote retailers operating in multiple states, including those selling by mail order or over the Internet. Sales taxes often don't get collected on such sales. The system initially would generate an extra $35 million a year, but some of that would compensate warehouse locales and other areas that lose tax revenue with the new approach, the Department of Revenue said Friday.
The eminent domain bills are SB5444 and HB1458. The cemetery bills are SB5058 and HB1292. The tuition bill is SB5002. The tax bill is SB5089.