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WASHINGTON – At least 10 states already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight and others, alarmed by the Supreme Court’s decision clearing the way for the forcible removal of homeowners and business owners from their property, are considering new property rights protections.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell and some legislative leaders are promising to review the laws in the state where the controversy arose.
It is in New London, Conn., where city officials seek to bulldoze homes for a private development project that will bring more tax revenue into the government’s coffers.
Last week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision broadened the eminent domain power – granting local governments sweeping powers to seize private property to generate tax revenue. But the court also acknowledged that states can restrict that power.
State House Minority Leader Robert Ward said he plans to resurrect a bill that died last session that would prevent the taking of property in Connecticut for economic development.
Currently, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow private property to be taken for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.
In addition, several other state supreme courts have ruled differently than the U.S. Supreme Court, providing additional safeguards against land grabs by private developers using their influence with city and county officials.
Rell said she asked her staff to contact Ward to talk about introducing legislation in the next legislative session, which opens in February. Rell said she has mixed emotions about the court ruling.
“I can certainly understand the economic development concerns, but I’m certainly also sympathetic with the people,” she said. “I think if we can strike a good balance and if there’s legislation that would address that, then I’m more than willing to look at it.”
Ward’s bill, which died during this year’s regular legislative session, would allow eminent domain to be used for blight removal, although Ward said he has concerns about how “blight” might be defined.
House Speaker James Amann said also has concerns about the taking of private property and said he is willing to consider legislation next year.
At least one legislator, Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo, is calling on legislative leaders to act during the current special session, saying the ruling will have a “monumental impact” on homeowners’ rights everywhere.
In other states, legislators are taking action. California state Sen. Tom McClintock, who ran for governor against Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the Supreme Court “broke the social compact by striking down one of Americans’ most fundamental rights.”
McClintock announced he plans to introduce an amendment to the California Constitution to restore the original meaning of the property protections in the Bill of Rights.
“This amendment will require that the government must either own the property it seizes through eminent domain or guarantee the public the legal right to use the property,” he said. “In addition, it will require that such property must be restored to the original owner or his rightful successor, if the government ceases to use it for the purpose of the eminent domain action.”