Absent any direct proof that eminent domain power has been abused in Illinois, any anti-eminent domain legislation pending in Springfield is unneeded and will be opposed, a group of far west suburban officials told state legislators Tuesday.
In presenting their top state legislative priorities for 2006 at an annual breakfast in St. Charles, members of the DuKane Valley Council and the Metro West Council of Government called on lawmakers "to preserve the current standards for the use of eminent domain."
The councils' stance on eminent domain, which lawmakers acknowledged is a "hot button" legislative issue, comes partly in response to legislation proposed by state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) that would give landowners in Illinois more standing in court to contest the basis for certain attempts at condemnation.
In offering the councils' stance on the issue, Elgin Mayor Ed Schock said bills like Garrett's are "unnecessary at this time because of the absence of direct evidence confirming that alleged abuses of eminent domain authority exist."
Illinois already has some of the most stringent regulations and a favorable court opinion that serve as a check against such abuse, Schock said.
State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) said much of the public furor feeding anti-eminent domain sentiment in Illinois stems from a lack of understanding about the existing state law.
"Citizens are unaware of what [safeguards are] already in place," Chapa LaVia said, and an education effort is needed in Illinois "to explain the whole picture."
Chapa LaVia was the lone Democrat of the six state lawmakers to meet with the councils Tuesday.
Republican state Reps. Patricia Reid Lindner of Aurora; Ruth Munson of Elgin; and Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn; and state Sens. Chris Lauzen of Aurora and J. Bradley Burzynski of Clare said they have experienced a firestorm of public reaction since last summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the public taking of private property.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled on a 5-4 vote that a municipality's eminent domain powers permit it to seize privately owned real estate for transfer to private developers if the municipality discerns a "public" benefit.
"I have never seen such a constituent outcry," said Lindner. "They were really outraged.
"This is an issue that resonates with the legislature and resonates with our constituents," she warned the councils' members.
According to Lindner, Garrett is in negotiations with Illinois municipalities and the Illinois Municipal League over changes to her eminent domain bill.
Lauzen said he looks forward to supporting "reasonable powers of eminent domain," but opposing anti-eminent domain legislation, as the councils suggest, "is not something that flies with the people I [represent]."
"This all boils down to who is really in charge," said Lauzen, adding that he comes down on the side of "the people."
Burzynski said expansion in Illinois in the number of entities that have the power of eminent domain "raises a red flag for me."
"It's certainly a hot topic with my constituents," said Pihos.
Chicago Tribune: www.chicagotribune.com