Analysis: How Bramble’s Eminent Domain Bill Went South

Bob Bernick, Utah Policy Contributing EditorYou work hard drafting a bill for the upcoming Legislature. Get all the interested parties together. But when you run it in its first floor debate, suddenly things go south, your own GOP caucus members talking against it.

And it doesn’t help when the minority Democrats start speaking in favor of it.

So you bail out – you circle the bill so you can reorganize your votes in hopes you can win at a later time.

That was the situation veteran Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, found himself in Monday morning with his SB201, a bill that would once again allow local cities and counties of the first- and second-class to use eminent domain condemnation powers to take private land needed to complete several of Utahns major recreational trail systems.

Bramble, despite his efforts, failed to get the endorsement of the Utah Farm Bureau – the lobbyist for Utah farmers and agricultural industry.

In fact, even after Bramble rewrote SB201 to make it significantly more targeted, the Farm Bureau is still against him.

And in arguing for SB201, First Substitute, Monday on the Senate’s 2nd reading calendar, Bramble lost control of the debate as first fellow Republicans spoke against expanding eminent domain and then Democrats started talking in favor of it.

After newly-installed Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman – a man who lambasts Republicans and most GOP lawmakers love to hate – spoke in favor of SB201, Bramble, disappointment in his voice, moved to circle his own bill.

So SB201 sits on the Senate calendar as Bramble tries to reorganize his forces.

What happened Monday is a good lesson to learn in Legislative tactics and debate – often “help” from the minority party isn’t really help at all.

Eminent domain condemnation has for some time been a philosophical sticking point for Utah Republicans.

The very idea of the government – be it state, city, county or school district – having the ability to take private property for a public purpose doesn’t sit well in GOP stomachs.

Bramble retorted to GOP senator complaints about SB201 that no other senator has been as concerned, or worked as hard to control, eminent domain than he has.

His rewritten SB201 grinds down which trails may see eminent domain action to just two: The Jordan River Trail, which, when finished, will run from the Great Salt Lake through central Salt Lake County to Utah Lake; and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, which ultimately could run all along the Wasatch Front west side mountain benches.

The shoreline trail can run through Bramble’s eastside-of-Provo District 16, which runs up against the mountains.

Bramble said eminent domain action for recreational facilities, including trails, was long used in Utah until about five years ago.

At that time lawmakers removed trails as eligible ED action, mainly because of actions in Mapleton City in Utah County. The city fathers didn’t want a large parcel of bench land development, so they condemned a slice down the middle of it and put in a trail.

Upset, GOP legislators took tails out of the ED mix. And that bad feeling rose again against Bramble.

“We don’t want the camel’s nose under the tent” on ED for trails or other recreation, said Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.

Dabakis, a new appointee to the Senate, was last in line among Democrats for committee assignments. And even though he is from highly-developed Salt Lake City, was put on the Natural Resources Senate Standing Committee, hearing bills that usually deal with rural Utah.

“I wish you (Republicans opposing SB201) would give us a little break on this slippery slope” argument, that Okerlund made. “This is very tightly crafted. Let the slippery slope go; it is critical to my valley we are given freedom (to condemn) to get these trails done.”

Bad idea the Democratic Party chairman asking Republicans to give a little on the slippery slope of eminent domain.

With a “thanks a lot” look at Dabakis, Bramble moved to circle his bill.

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