This is big news: Last Friday, a judge in Oregon ruled that Measure 37 violates the state constitution.

To recap: Measure 37, which was approved overwhelmingly by Oregon voters last fall, required state or local governments either to compensate landowners, or to waive development restrictions, whenever land-use rules reduced the value of private property. The measure was strongly supported by timber interests, who faced limits on logging near streams and sensitive areas. And its passage wreaked havoc on the state’s growth management system — which had been largely successful at protecting farmland from suburban sprawl — while creating an administrative nightmare for state and local governments who faced a deluge of complex Measure 37 cases.

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As written, Measure 37 was supposed to apply only to people who bought their land before land use and zoning laws came into effect. People who bought after that, allegedly, understood what they were getting into, and weren’t entitled to compensation. But the judge ruled that this violated the "equal privileges and immunities" clause of Oregon’s constitution, because it created two separate classes of landowners: one with special rights and remedies for diminished land value, one without.

Last Friday’s ruling invalidating the measure was definitive and sweeping. But it’s not the end of the debate — not by a long shot. Appeals are already planned, and Measure 37’s supporters will undoubtedly be back soon with another — perhaps even more insidious — property rights proposal. And if I had to guess, the proponents of Measure 37 will be looking to open up the system to all landowners, not just recent purchasers. If that were to pass, of course, it would make the chaos engendered by Measure 37 look tame in comparison.

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