House Bill 4111 is the culmination of a fifteen year long struggle to correct a terrible injustice that was committed in the name of all Oregonians to two of our senior citizens in Lane County, Jack and Betty Neely, who were 77 years old and 66 years old respectively when they had their family home foreclosed on and sold for the exact amount of an unpaid sewer lien, which they refused to pay in 1995. They stood opposed to the juggernaut of urban development and annexation in Eugene, and their home on Horn Lane in the River Road area just west of Eugene, which was in the path of Eugene’s urban growth boundary, was foreclosed on and sold for $7411 after a long legal battle with the City of Eugene which the Neely’s lost. Their house was appraised at just under $70,000, but it was expropriated and sold for exactly $7,411. That was back in 1995.
Jack and Betty Neely paid dearly for standing on their principles. They paid dearly for standing up to Eugene’s over aggressive land use planning goals, and for their refusal to pay the original $5000 sewer assessment. The Neely’s paid over $70,000 worth of fines, and Jack Neely paid with his life. He died of a heart attack, one month after the forced sale of his house and his eviction by the Lane County Sheriff. That was after a five year long legal battle that left both he and his sister penniless and homeless. Jack Neely died of a broken heart, which was precipitated by that legal battle. He was discouraged, disillusioned, and beaten down at the time of his death. That’s what the autopsy report did not say!
I wrote this Bill back in 1995. It was gutted that year and passed by the House, and then it was allowed to die in the Senate. The number of the Bill that year was House Bill 3453. I tried unsuccessfully to bring the Bill back for the last two years. Last year it was referred to as Senate Bill 929. It didn’t even receive a hearing last year. What is the matter with the Legislature in this State that for the each of the past 15 years no one in the legislature brought this Bill forward again? Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy sponsored this bill back in 1995 at my request, but she did not bring the bill forward during the next five years that she served in the Oregon State Legislature. During second term she was the Democrat Caucus leader and during her last term she was the House Minority leader. Did someone need to reminder her of the importance of this measure?
How on earth did the law which allowed the Neely home to sold for the exact amount of a sewer lien ever get written in the first place? And what the heck is wrong with the League of Oregon Cities who stood opposed to a small language change in the wording of the Bill this year that would have made it even better? Oregon House Bill 4111 seeks to simply restore justice to cold hearted law and order for all Oregonians, who for whatever reason could find themselves in exactly the same situation as the Neelys did, with a local improvement lien on their property that they cannot pay. ORS 223.525 just simply ignores the United States Bill of Rights. It disregards and it violates three of our first ten Amendments to the US Constitution.
It violates the 4th Amendment which guarantees to all Americans the right to be secure in our houses against unreasonable seizures. It violates the 5th Amendment which requires that property that is taken for a public use (such as satisfying a municipal sewer lien) cannot be taken without just compensation. And it violates the 8th Amendment which prohibits the imposition of excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishment. When did it become acceptable in Oregon or anywhere else in the United States of America to sell someone’s house for the exact amount of an unpaid sewer lien, which by the way was later determined to be illegal, and to effectively turn a couple of independent, taxpaying Oregonians into homeless people who are dependent upon the State? After the Neelys lost their house, in a subsequent lawsuit, the Oregon Appeals Court ruled (in The City of Eugene v. Nalven) that the City of Eugene was wrong in forcing anybody who lived outside of their City limits to hook up to the Eugene Municipal Sewer System! The City of Eugene was wrong. They were actually dead wrong, because Jack Neely lost his life over their illegal act. It’s about time that the City of Eugene officially apologize to the two surviving members of the Neely family, Jack’s sister Betty, and Jack’s younger brother Don, and make the proper restitution.
In Salem last week House Bill 4111 passed the Oregon Legislature, but someone in a legislative work session on the Bill inserted some bad language into the Bill, a defect which will turn back the hands of justice slightly by substituting the words 75% of total assessed value , instead of the words 75% of real market value, which will minimize the impact of the Bill. In ORS 223.525 in subsection 1 it reads,” The property shall be sold for the greater of these two values:
The correct language of ORS 223.525 subsection 1 should have read:
There is often a substantial difference between real market value and total assessed value. It is not clear who actually inserted the words total assessed value into the Bill, or at whose request it was put there, but the League of Oregon Cities, opposed my request to substitute the words [real market value] for the current language in the Bill [total assessed value]. What possible good reason could they have for opposing the correction? I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourselves.
I have assurances that in the next legislative session that the House will revisit this issue, and attempt to correct the defect in the current language of the Bill, nevertheless it is still a great moral victory for all Oregonians of good conscience, and a huge improvement over what the law currently is.
"A journalist has no better friend than the truth." - Scott Rohter