A petition drive that seeks to prevent any government official from condemning and then seizing private property in Oklahoma for economic development under eminent domain laws is now in its final days in that state.
This past June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo v. New London that government can seize property and transfer it to another private owner if the change in ownership is for the "public good." However, a group called Oklahomans in Action plans to turn in a petition on Monday that would allow the voters in their state to decide the fate of an initiative that would protect Oklahoma residents' property rights.
Pat Highland, one of the people helping to coordinate the Oklahomans in Action petition drive, calls the Kelo v. New London ruling "a frightening expansion of government power." She says people are being asked to sign the petition so "we can stop this in its tracks in Oklahoma. Our state is one of the first that is dealing with this issue since the Kelo decision nationally."
That landmark court case pitted the city of New London, Connecticut, against Susette Kelo, who fought the city for years to keep her home from being seized to make room for a major commercial development. Critics of the decision in that eminent domain case note that it leaves individuals, churches, and other private property owners vulnerable to commercial interests.
Fighting Kelo is important, Highland explains, because private homes and churches generally do not produce a tax revenue. That means government can now legally seize their land pretty much whenever "any developer ... decides they want to come in and take that corner spot and that it's for the 'public good,'" she says.
"This is not the definition of eminent domain," the citizen activist asserts. "This about power and greed that can just come in and say, 'Okay, we want your home, we want your church,' and we really don't own our property, so to speak."
Oklahomans in Action must turn in its petition Monday. Members of the group are also gathering signatures for another petition, which supports asking voters to adopt a plan similar to Colorado's taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR.
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