BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Opening a box containing an unassembled item poses a great temptation to toss aside the paperwork and begin assembly “by the seat of our pants.” Freelance assembly sometimes works and, besides, we really don’t have time to “Completely Read These Instructions.”
On occasion when we realize that assembly has reached an impasse, we scramble to find the guide, hoping that we did not ignore the 12-point type, bold face sentence on the manual’s cover, “Do Not Throw These Instructions Away.”
A college professor once emphasized the importance of following instructions by telling his students to use ink and read the entire test before beginning. Those who did as instructed discovered at the end of the test, a direction to simply place their name at the top of page one and return the test with no other marks. Many failed.
Of greater import than assembly instructions or college exams is the duty of elected officials to fully read and understand legislation before voting. Unfortunately, pending SB 563 continues to progress toward law.
The bill passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee strictly along party lines and when heard on the Senate floor, six Republicans joined the seven Senate Democrats opposing the bill, but it still passed 31-13.
There is no hyperbole in saying that the bill erodes the private property rights of hundreds of thousands of landowners in this state and allows a portion of their property to be taken without compensation. This is a bill that takes property from farmers and ranchers but also from any person whose property fronts upon a public road easement anywhere in this state.
If SB 563 becomes law, every easement or right of way in the state has the potential of having poles or pipelines laying in them on the surface of the ground.
Currently, in Oklahoma, the only private entities that possess the right of eminent domain and may locate utilities in roadway easements and rights of way are public utility companies regulated by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
However, SB 563 will allow “any person or entity” to use any public road, highway, right-of-way or easement to install poles, equipment, wires, pipes and conduits on top or below the ground across and along rights of way and easements by simply securing the consent of the city or county having jurisdiction of the easement, even if the easement was simply for roadway purposes.
The bill further provides that if the lines or pipes are not “anticipated” to lie in the ditches or across the roads for more than a year, the consent of the landowner is not required and the landowner is not entitled to compensation.
SB 563 is no accident. Private companies seek to lay pipe on the surface of rights of way and easements. They know that any statute granting that right must also allow the general public to do likewise. Otherwise, a private company would possess “a right not held by the general public” and could – according to EOG Res. Market. v. Okla. St. Bd. of Equalization [Okla. Supreme Court, 2008] – be subjected to Corporation Commission regulation and be required to pay property taxes based on an Oklahoma Tax Commission statewide assessment formula.
They would rather have their property taxes determined by individual county assessors who are faced with legal and practical limitations on their ability to make full and accurate tax assessments.
Perhaps those Republican senators who voted for SB 563 knew exactly how this bill impacts private property rights. Without a doubt, the lobbyists and corporations that want to lay pipe above ground in easements across your property without consent and without compensation knew what it said when they drafted the bill.
Apparently, the cover of the bill said, “No Reading Necessary.”
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representative