KANSAS CITY (B)--The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is lauding passage of a property rights bill in the U.S. House that would give cattle producers and other landowners better access to litigation in federal courts. Approved recently by a 226-to-182 vote, the Private Property Rights Implementation Act removes administrative and judicial hurdles that can overwhelm landowners before a federal court hears their takings claims, the association said in a release.

Takings are actions by government that deny the rights of property owners. For example, it is considered a taking when a local government denies a permit for development or other economic activity and a landowner loses value in his property.

The bill makes it easier for landowners who believe their Fifth Amendment rights have been violated to have their cases heard in a federal court. It now takes property owners up to 10 years to get a day in court. The legislation clarifies when a property owner can appeal a local decision to a federal court.

Current avenues for property rights litigation are considered cumbersome at best, the release said. Cattle producers and other property owners often are stalled repeatedly in local bureaucratic red tape if they try to sue because they feel a local

government has unjustly denied a building or development permit.

The law now states private property rights cases can't go to federal court unless the state or local government has made a final ruling. The system can effectively stall a property owner's federal case by failing to make a final decision.

The right to own and use property is vital to livestock and other land-based industries. Cattle production relies on haying, grazing and normal maintenance activities on pasture, range and hay lands.

For most farmers and ranchers, property also represents a form of collateral for operating loans. Any property rights vote that favors the rights of landowners can only help the industry, the release said.

Cattle producers have long supported alternatives to costly and lengthy litigation such as the increased access to federal courts that the Private Property Rights Implementation Act provides.

"This bill is about fairness and due process," said Brice Lee, chairman of NCBA's Property Rights-Environmental Management Committee, in the release. "These undue procedural rules have resulted in middle-class property owners not having the resources to at least have their claims heard."

The House has sent the bill to the Senate for consideration. The same measure passed in the House late last congressional session but the Senate didn't address it before adjourning.

Research has shown that judges have avoided addressing the merits of federal takings claims in more than 94% of all cases litigated between 1983 and 1988, said Myra Hyde, director of environmental issues for NCBA in the release.

More recent surveys indicate 83% of takings claims raised in U.S. District Courts from 1990-98 never reached the so-called merits, she added. In cases that reached the merits, it took property owners an average of nearly 10 years to have an appellate court decide.

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