No need to rush eminent domain bill: The Birmingham (AL) News, 7/9/05


The Alabama Legislature should pass a bill to counteract a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows governments to seize private property and turn it over to other private owners for retail developments. No question about that.

But that doesn't mean Gov. Bob Riley should put such legislation in his call for the upcoming special session - though Riley says that's what he intends to do.

A special session should be held only for emergencies. Certainly, the Legislature's failure to pass the state General Fund budget during its regular session qualifies as an emergency. A budget for next year to fund public safety, prisons, child welfare, the health department and other agencies must be in place before the fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

The eminent domain issue, however, is not an emergency. Besides, the more proposals Riley puts into the call, the longer a special session is likely to last. That makes taxpayers spend even more money they wouldn't have to had the Legislature done its job in the regular session. Another danger is that nonemergency bills like this one can be used by lawmakers to delay other, more important bills, like the budget.

Don't forget, either, that Congress also is considering bills to protect property owners.

The ruling last month by the Supreme Court in a Connecticut case was odd. In a 5-4 decision, the court said a local government can confiscate private property and transfer it to another private party for economic development. Before the ruling, eminent domain was used mainly for huge public works projects such as schools, highways and rights of way. Even for those legitimate purposes, eminent domain is something that should be used rarely and only when the greater public good is clearly understood.

To take a home or property against an owner's wishes for a shopping center is another matter. That never should be allowed. Still, the eminent domain ruling does not constitute an eminent danger in Alabama right now.

In the upcoming special session, lawmakers should focus on the emergency at hand: the state's General Fund budget.

The bill negating the Supreme Court's bad decision on taking private property can wait until January. By then, Congress already may have acted, and lawmakers will have a better idea what kind of bill they need to write - or if they even need to write one.

Birmingham News: www.al.com/opinion/birminghamnews