Lawmakers consider providing protections against eminent domain: Newsday, 6/24/05

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press

[Connecticut] Gov. M. Jodi Rell and some legislative leaders promised Friday to review the state's eminent domain laws after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New London can take homes for a private development project.

Thursday's 5-4 decision broadens the eminent domain power, granting local governments broad rights to seize private property to generate tax revenue. But the court also ruled that states can restrict that power.

State House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford, said he plans to resurrect a bill that died last session that would prevent the taking of property in Connecticut for economic development.

"Now that we know the Supreme Court will not give private homeowners this level of protection, the legislature should," Ward said.

At least eight states — Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina 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.

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, D-Milford, said also has concerns about the taking of private property and said he is willing to consider legislation next year.

But at least one legislator, Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, is calling on legislative leaders to act during the current special session, saying the ruling will have a "monumental impact" on homeowners' rights everywhere.

"We have an opportunity in the legislature to correct something I find to be very discriminatory," he said.

But many urban lawmakers, including those from the New London area, support the high court's ruling.

"Their opinion obviously upholds the fact that economic development is considered a public use," said State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said Thursday. "I'm glad for the city because now the city can move forward with development. But, I feel very sad for the people whose homes are there and now will sell their properties and move on,"

Amann said he would not want to "interfere with anything that's happening in New London, but I think it's worth investigating."

Amann recalled that several waterfront homes in Milford were taken by eminent domain in the 1960s, supposedly for a beach. That project, however, became a landfill. In 1994, the site was eventually reopened as Silver Sands State Park.

"I think it might be smart for us to investigate it and strengthen the laws to protect more homeowners' rights," he said.

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