Court expands eminent domain, but some states aren’t buying it: Enid (OK) News & Eagle, 7/23/05

The recent Supreme Court decision that could allow governments to take private property and turn it over to developers has state lawmakers across the country scrambling to thwart an overreaching power.

Oklahoma is one of those states working on such legislation. Lawmakers are alarmed by the prospect of local governments seizing homes or businesses for developers that might make a better offer on sales tax revenues for the community.

Many see the action by the Supreme Court in the Kelo vs. New London case as an attack on private property rights of individuals — and while that may seem somewhat alarmist — it is a valid concern.

Most people understand the rule of eminent domain, which allows governments to take property for “the public good.” That usually means roads or other infrastructure that is pubic in nature.

And, even in those cases, eminent domain usually is rare because governments work out satisfactory financial arrangements with the people whose property is needed.

However, what galls people is the latest decision seems to allow big corporations to get their hands in the pockets of local government with promises of big sales tax revenues. That’s a whole different ball game. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in her dissent, “Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory.”

Most government officials, including those in Enid, say they would be extremely careful and exercise good judgment in handing such an issue. However, this ruling provides governments with an awesome power. In communities that have no or slow economic growth, it just might be too tempting to wield such a power without the proper perspective and concern for individual property rights.

We agree legislation probably needs to be written to address this issue and strengthen individual property rights, but we also are concerned too much emotional reaction could jerk legislation into an extreme position.

We advise legislators working on such proposals to make changes with careful reflection. They need to step back and look at the issue broadly. They should visit with local government entities and constituents, then make the appropriate changes.

Eminent domain is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a power that must be a last resort. Individual property rights are too precious, and they must be treated with cautious regard.

Enid news & Eagle: www.enidnews.com