Connecticut's eminent domain laws should be revised : Windsor (CT) Journal News, 7/21/05

Last year, I wrote a column regarding the State Supreme Court's ruling that recognized Connecticut and its municipalities' rights to use eminent domain for private development.

The U.S Supreme Court's ruling last month that upheld the state court's ruling has been the source of much media coverage since that time. As the court ruling acknowledged states' rights to limit eminent domain uses, the Connecticut General Assembly may address this issue in an upcoming special legislative session.

This court case (Kelo v. New London) revolved around the taking of a number of private homes in the area of Fort Trumbull State Park in order to use the land to build a hotel, conference center, marina, technology research facilities, a river walk, and some 80 units of private housing. Prior to the U.S Supreme Court decision, it was widely interpreted that eminent domain could only be used for future public uses, such as for establishing bridges, roads and municipal facilities. Nationwide, people have justifiably expressed concerns about the U.S Supreme Court's decision, which appears to expand eminent domain uses to include private development purposes.

House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford, has proposed revising Connecticut's eminent domain laws in a special session, to be held in the coming weeks. The legislation he has proposed merely deletes from existing statutes six lines that currently permit development agencies from seizing property for economic development. Local and state governments could still exercise eminent domain to deal with truly blighted properties that pose health or safety hazards or for public works projects including schools roads and other infrastructure improvements

On Tuesday, June 28, I voted in favor of a similar proposal that was defeated in a nearly party line vote. The Legislature held a special session that day to complete work related to the 2005-2007 state budget. Democrat leaders indicated they would rather wait until the next legislative regular session begins in February 2006 to address the issue. They have since requested municipalities not use eminent domain for private development for one year and proposed studying the issue.

I find waiting until next spring to consider legislation to address this problem unacceptable. The state should prohibit the use of eminent domain for private development as soon as possible. I cosponsored Rep. Ward's proposal and support holding a special session this summer. In fact, the Legislature is required to meet in special session to allow for the possible reconsideration of bills vetoed by the Governor. While a special session would likely only seek to rectify the immediate problem of limiting eminent domain, I believe the Legislature should consider other related issues in the near future as well.

When government takes a person's property by eminent domain, it is only required to pay the assessed value as compensation. However, when a person relocates their home or business, there are other significant costs involved, including closing costs, moving expenses and utility startup fees that must be borne by the home or business owner. Eminent domain laws should be amended to provide just compensation. Moving expenses and related relocation expenses should be covered by mandatory stipends.

As mentioned above, I oppose allowing the use of eminent domain for private development. However, if Connecticut's laws are not changed to prevent this, I support amending our statutes to guarantee private property owners receive two times the amount of the assessed value of their property if it is taken by eminent domain in such cases.

Windsor Journal News: www.zwire.com