Senate Puts Eminent Domain on Hold: WXIA-TV (Atlanta GA), 1/19/06

By Denis O'Hayer

Responding to outraged property owners, a state senate committee has just approved a 120-day halt on eminent domain, the power local governments have to seize private land.

At issue is whether the government can take private land for other private development.

Mark Meeks swapped his florist's apron for a business suit to watch the vote. He's in a legal fight with the city of Stockbridge, which wants to force him to sell his shop to make way for a new city hall plus private stores and residences.

Lawmakers have felt the public fury over eminent domain for private projects. Local governments have, too.

But John Hiscox of Macon's housing authority warned there are times when eminent domain serves the public good – even when a private project is involved.

Hiscox says without eminent domain, Macon could never have transformed blighted blocks into vibrant neighborhoods.

“We’re respecting private property. We are creating new homeowners by the dozens,” Hiscox said.

Meeks pointed to existing laws.

“There are laws on the books now. If they want to use those, they can enforce those, and there’s no need to use eminent domain,” Meeks said.

Both sides said a 120-day moratorium would give lawmakers time to sort out an issue that's both controversial and complicated.

There’s also a move now to write limits on eminent domain directly into the state constitution. That would likely intensify the debate even more.

WXIA-TV: www.11alive.com