Illinois Senate OKs measure on eminent domain: Belleville (IL) News-Democrat, 3/4/06

Will restrict powers to take over property

Associated Press

Local governments would have a tougher time taking residents' property for economic development under a bill approved by the Illinois Senate.

The measure, approved 44-2, would apply a higher standard for local governments to exercise eminent domain to clear the way for private development projects. The bill now goes to the House.

Officials from local governments throughout the state opposed the bill, claiming it would hamstring efforts to improve their communities through redevelopment.

But supporters said the measure strengthens property-owner protections weakened by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that expanded local governments' eminent domain powers.

"The way it is now, the property owner is clearly at a disadvantage," said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest, the bill's main sponsor. "This levels the playing field."

The measure would require local government to prove that a property is "blighted" before it can take it for private development. Officials also would be required to have detailed redevelopment or renewal plans in place before they condemn property.

The bill wouldn't affect local governments' power to declare eminent domain for public projects such as roads and reservoirs.

Roger Huebner, general counsel for the Illinois Municipal League, said the legislation could dampen developers' interest in revitalization projects by complicating the redevelopment process.

"What the bill does is increase the value of what a local government has to pay to get rid of blight," Huebner said.

The U.S. Constitution says governments cannot take private property for public use without "just compensation." But for decades, the court has been expanding the definition of public use, allowing cities to employ eminent domain to eliminate rundown properties.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that New London, Conn., had the authority to take homes for a private development project. But in its ruling, the court noted that states are free to ban that practice.

Since then, five states have passed eminent domain laws in response to the ruling and as many as 40 more are considering legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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