Md. legislature late to eminent domain reaction: (Baltimore) Maryland Daily Record, 10/24/05

By Dori Berman

Last week the eminent domain issue bubbled to the surface in the Free State, but Maryland was not the first to react to a controversial Supreme Court decision from earlier this year.

The Maryland GOP’s promise to introduce a constitutional amendment to prohibit the condemnation of private property for economic development purposes follows a string of legislative proposals at the state and federal levels. While bills popping up across the nation aim to address the same issue, they vary widely in scope.

“Most of them have language that talk about prohibiting private-to-private transfer [of property] or prohibiting transfers for economic development,” said Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition, an arm of the libertarian nonprofit Institute for Justice in Washington that advocates against the use of eminent domain.

In many cases, though, that’s where the similarities stop. Three states — Delaware, Texas and Alabama — have already passed measures. Nine others have introduced bills, and legislators in more than 25 other states have announced intentions to propose legislation when they reconvene this year or next.

Some states, such as Alabama, have legislation proposing to prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes or to generate tax revenue, unless the property can be determined to be blighted. The Texas law has similar prohibitions, but specifies eminent domain may be used for sports stadiums, museums, transportation projects and other public venues.

While the new law passed in Texas has specific provisions, Anderson said many others contain vague language.

“To the extent you’re going to reform your eminent domain laws, you want to be explicit,” he said. Failing to define subjective terms, such as blight or economic development, could render the legislation useless.

In New York, one of several bills on the table would require local governments to vote on each project that would demand the use of eminent domain. Meanwhile, both California and Ohio have bills to place a moratorium on eminent domain until a task force can study and report on the issue.

Several proposals have also surfaced at the federal level. As with the state measures, the federal bills differ in scope, but they share the intention to withhold federal funding from state and local projects resulting from the use of eminent domain.

Those proposals worry some interested parties because individual communities have differing needs.

“The National Council of State Legislatures’ position is that the power of eminent domain has always been the power of states and localities. We are very concerned,” Susan Parnas Frederick, an attorney with the organization, told Maryland’s House Environmental Matters last week during a briefing on the subject.

A Maryland task force, established in 2004 to study the issue of compensation for business owners in eminent domain cases, will vote on a final report next month. The report will likely result in legislation next year.

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel Democrat, has also confirmed intentions to propose legislation to prohibit eminent domain for economic development.

Maryland Daily Record: www.mddailyrecord.com