State prepares to fight 'eminent domain abuse': The Daily Advertiser (Lafayette LA), 8/5/05

[State] Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, and Sen. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, are drafting constitutional amendments to prevent local governments from seizing private property for business development. The bills are in reaction to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows local governments to use the right of eminent domain to force property owners to sell their property to developers whose use of the property would provide more government revenue than that produced under the original ownership.

The number of states considering constitutional amendments similar to those being drafted in Louisiana is steadily growing. The most recent count by a national organization called Citizens Fighting Eminent Domain Abuse said such legislation is going before state lawmaking bodies in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

Negative response from the public to the Supreme Court ruling has been overwhelming.

A poll by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News revealed that property rights has suddenly become the No. 1 issue among Americans. "Instant polls" by MSNBC and CNN showed massive opposition to the court ruling. At MSNBC, 98 percent of respondents were against local governments taking private property for development, while at CNN, 99 percent of those responding were opposed.

We support a constitutional amendment protecting property rights from misuse of the authority granted government under the right of eminent domain. It is not a simple issue, however, and must be approached carefully. In Baton Rouge, for instance, there is concern over the effect on dealing with blighted areas of the community. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report says some restrictions on seizing property could harm efforts to revitalize Old South Baton Rouge.

That problem is being addressed in many states. In Massachusetts, for instance, a proposed amendment makes an exception when "such takings are necessary to prevent the development of, or to eliminate, dilapidated or blighted open areas as provided by law."

A constitutional amendment is needed. Before one is approved by the legislature or the public, however, it must be carefully scrutinized to assure that it does not go beyond the basic purpose stated by the Castle Coalition: to assure that government cannot "take your home or business and give it to a politically connected private developer because that developer might be able to produce more taxes."

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