Lawmakers begin checking out bills on eminent domain: The (Nashville) Tennessean, 3/7/06

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press

Tennessee lawmakers yesterday began discussing a number of eminent domain bills, most of which would prohibit seizing property for economic development or private use.

Both parties have introduced bills after last year's ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that the city of New London, Conn., had the authority to take homes for a private development project.

Governments have long purchased private property for the construction of roads, bridges, dams, sewer lines and the like. If owners are unwilling to sell, governments can use eminent domain to force sale of the property.

The Supreme Court ruling has prompted Tennessee and about 40 other states to debate putting new restrictions on the practice.

One of the 36 bills before a joint bipartisan committee would require the state or municipality condemning the private property "to pay the owner three times the value of the property as determined by the average of three appraisals."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank Niceley, said his legislation would keep the state from "buying too much land" and give the individual being bought out enough money to relocate comfortably.

"It's a traumatic experience when someone comes in and takes something from you," said the Strawberry Plains Republican. "I'm not in favor of the state taking any land for economic development."

Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is proposing three eminent domain bills. One would allow a 120-day moratorium on the transfer of property from one private entity to another to give a committee an opportunity to review the transaction.

He said it also would allow the property owner being approached a chance to try to negotiate a better price, instead of being forced to settle.

Campfield cited the case of a Knoxville family who owned a wrecking company and was threatened with condemnation if the family didn't accept the city's buyout price.

"We told them no, and the letters started coming about condemning," said Mary Turner, whose husband inherited the company from his father.

The Tennessean: www.tennessean.com