Bill seeks to restrict eminent domain use : Beaufort (SC) Gazette, 1/26/06

Opinion: Use should be in good faith

Few things enrage Americans more than someone tampering with their right to own property — and to hold onto their property. South Carolina lawmakers are following the lead of at least 21 states to limit the ability of government to take property.

Americans were outraged over the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London, which basically said that local governments could take a person's property if its use could be turned into a higher tax base.

Federal and state constitutions recognize the power of government to condemn private property and take it for a justified public use — a highway, for instance. But in the Kelo decision, the court said that a community could take a person's land and allow a company to build a mall.

According to [The Cato Institute] Cato.org, "For many years ... courts have read the public-use restraint broadly, enabling governments to take property from one owner, often small and powerless, and transfer it to another, often large and politically connected, all in the name of economic development, urban renewal or job creation."

But as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, "I have gotten more phone calls about the Kelo case than anything the Supreme Court has done lately. I want you to know that my phone is ringing off the hook and that every legislature that I know of is going into session as quickly as they can to correct that."

[South Carolina] Gov. Mark Sanford joined the fray in December, and he mentioned in his State of the State address last week his intentions to work with the General Assembly to change the law to protect property rights.

This week House Speaker Bobby Harrell and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison introduced a bill to strengthen eminent domain laws. "We can't leave it up to the courts to protect us," Harrison said at a press conference Tuesday. A bill also has been introduced in the Senate.

The proposed eminent domain law changes would:
  • restrict the governmental authorities that could use it;
  • define the term "public use;"
  • limit when it could be used for economic development purposes.

Limiting its use in economic development is the key in this legislation. It should contain the most strict language possible, and it should be invoked only for bona fide public uses.

The Beaufort Gazette: www.beaufortgazette.com