Property Rights Becomes Hot Battle House Begins Debate on `Takings' Bill to Compensate Property Owners for the Loss of Lands

Article excerpt

FOR John and Josephine Bronczyk, the cattail marsh that seeps over part of their Minnesota farm is a measure of the times. During the dustbowl days of the Great Depression, the bog was so dry they could cut hay on it.

Nowadays, the brother and sister let pheasants and water fowl nest in their fields and rushes. But, true to the modern age, the marsh has also drawn a less welcome praire home companion: the state Department of Natural Resources.

State officials have designated more than half of the Bronczyk's 160-acre farm as wetlands, subject to a complex tapestry of regulations. A decade of legal battles has taught the siblings how intractable government rules can be. The wetlands designation, they argue, restricted their right to forbid public access. Cases such as the Broncyzks' have fueled a growing movement to seize greater protection of property rights. At least 500 grass-roots organizations across the country are now pushing for changes in the reach of government regulations, and Republicans in Congress have picked up on their anger.

On the floor of the House Thursday, federal lawmakers will begin to debate new rules regarding the protection of property rights under the Fifth Amendment, which states that if private property is taken for public use, government must provide "just compensation" to the owner. The Broncyzks argue Minnesota's wetlands designation constituted a "taking," for which they are entitled to compensation.

Earlier this week, the House debated legislation that would require federal agencies to conduct extensive cost-benefit analyses of all proposed regulations before enacting them. The House has already passed a moratorium prohibiting agencies from imposing new regulations through this year and suspending all rules issued since November of 1994. The ban faces a veto threat.

ALL together, the House regulatory reforms, called for in the Contract With America, are a vital part of the GOP effort to deconstruct the New Deal model of government. But critics argue the reforms are hasty, ill-conceived, and will add more bureaucratic confusion.

"There are two paths to regulatory reform: rewrite the regulations, or add complexity and drag to the process," says Maureen Steinbruner, president of the Center for National Policy, a think tank here. She says the Republicans are taking the latter approach.

The Bronczyk case illustrates the debate over regulatory burdens. Starting in 1979, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conducted a statewide inventory of state public waters. …

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