Conservation Easement Transparency
A conservation easement is an agreement in which a property owner agrees to limit the use of his or her land in perpetuity in order to protect one or more specified conservation purposes. The instruments creating the conservation easement are recorded in the public records affecting the ownership of the property. The conservation easement is held by a third party, which monitors the use of the land and ensures that the terms of the agreement are upheld.
Prior to creating a conservation easement, the bill requires the property owner to sign a disclosure form acknowledging certain specified consequences and risks of creating the easement on his or her land.
The bill requires the commissioner of agriculture to work with local government officials to create a database of conservation easements in the state. The database includes specified information about the easements and a corresponding map displaying each easement in the state relative to county boundaries. Local government officials and the commissioner of agriculture are authorized to enter into contracts to assist in gathering information for the database. The bill specifies the sources of information that may be used to create the database. The commissioner of agriculture is required to annually update the information in the database and make the information and corresponding map available to the public at no charge on the department of agriculture's website.
When a conservation easement agreement, amendment, or transfer is recorded with a county clerk and recorder, the bill requires a complete copy of the agreement, amendment, or transfer to be submitted to the commissioner of agriculture and the county tax assessor of the county in which the easement is located. The commissioner of agriculture is required to create a tracking form with specified information for each conservation easement agreement, amendment, or transfer submitted. The tracking forms are made available on the department of agriculture's website and can be used by the commissioner of agriculture to create and maintain the database of conservation easements.
If a single property owner acquires both a conservation easement and title to the underlying property, current law allows the conservation easement to be released, terminated, extinguished, or abandoned by a process known as "merger". The bill prohibits a conservation easement from being extinguished by taking fee title to the land to which the conservation easement is attached.
For any state income tax credit claimed for a donation of a conservation easement that is disallowed, the bill allows a landowner to elect to either extinguish the conservation easement for which the credit was claimed or receive an equitable relief payment from the state. If a landowner elects to extinguish the conservation easement, the bill requires the department of revenue to reimburse the taxpayer for all reasonable costs incurred by the landowner in establishing the conservation easement donation as well any federal or state income tax liability incurred by the taxpayer. The attorney general is required to assist landowners with executing any documents required to seek a court order to extinguish a conservation easement.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as introduced.)