Survey shows support for eminent domain amendment: Everything Alabama, 1/1/06

By Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

Gov. Bob Riley wants to put Alabama's new eminent domain law into the state constitution, and a survey of Alabama legislators shows many have the same goal.

In response to an Associated Press survey, about two-thirds of the House and Senate said they would support a constitutional amendment.

"As I go through my rural district, that is the number one issue," said Sen. Gerald Dial, D-Lineville.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision saying local governments could use their powers of eminent domain to seize property needed for private development projects that would generate tax revenue.

A month later, Riley called the Legislature into special session and won enactment of a law preventing city and county governments from condemning property to use for private development, such as a shopping center or manufacturing plant. It retained the use of eminent domain for traditional projects, such as schools, parks and roads, and to remove blighted neighborhoods.

In a recent interview, the Republican governor said the law addressed the immediate problem, but when the Legislature convenes Jan. 10, he will ask the lawmakers to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would put the law into the state constitution.

If approved by the Legislature, the next step would be to present the proposed constitutional amendment to Alabama voters in a statewide referendum. If the restrictions are put into the constitution, they would be harder to change than a state law, Riley said.

In an Associated Press survey answered by 73 percent of the House and 91 percent of the Senate, a constitutional amendment had support from 68 percent of the House and 69 percent of the Senate. Opposition came from 15 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate, with 17 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate undecided.

Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said he sees no need for a constitutional amendment.

"We've addressed that issue. The law we've passed is strong," he said.

Sen. Larry Dixon, who helped write the new eminent domain law, said the fight won't just be over putting the current law into the constitution. It will also be over making the constitutional amendment stronger than the law.

Dixon, R-Montgomery, said he will propose a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of eminent domain to remove blighted neighborhoods. Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottonwood, said he's working on a similar constitutional amendment that will restrict or ban the use of eminent domain in blighted neighborhoods.

Both expect opposition from city officials who want to retain the power to clean up declining areas of town.

Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, expects city officials to make a powerful argument. "I think blighted neighborhoods will have to stay in there," he said.

But Allen said Alabama landowners are calling for more protection.

"We feel like the Legislature has a responsibility to its citizens to present the constitutional amendment and let them go to the polls," he said.

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