Senate committee stalls eminent domain again: Decatur (AL) Daily, 2/8/86

By M J Ellington

Eminent domain legislation took a detour in a[n Alabama] Senate committee again Tuesday when Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on the best way to protect private property from government seizure.

The disagreement came down whether a proposed bill and a substitute for that bill submitted Tuesday would really give enough protection to private citizens and also enable governments to acquire truly blighted land for redevelopment.

Members of the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee voted to put aside the bill that called for voters to decide if they want eminent domain legislation in the state constitution.

Alabama became one of the first states to adopt eminent domain protections for private property last July during a special session of the Legislature. The vote came soon after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing New London, Conn., to take private property for commercial development.

The Legislature and Gov. Bob Riley vowed last summer to make any needed changes before sending the measure to voters.

On Tuesday, the committee asked HB 136 sponsor Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, and other committee members to make more changes before the committee votes on the issue.

Some committee members, including Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle, are not sure the bill with the substitute gives enough protection to keep governments from taking private property.

Private property owners in Connecticut lost property in good condition because their land fell within an area the city defined as blighted.

While Roberts found Biddle's original bill acceptable, he had concerns about a substitute to the bill submitted by Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham.

French said his bill does not directly address blight, but it does include provisions to protect private property.

Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said whatever the committee passes must be able to stand a court test. And Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, asked members to consider the land-use plans of cities that need to redevelop areas that truly are blighted.

In a public hearing on eminent domain legislation in the committee three weeks ago, some private property advocates said they need more protection.

Economic developers felt they were too tough.

Committee Chairman Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, said he will put the bill at the top of the committee agenda for its next meeting if sponsors want to do that.

Roberts said people have concerns about the definition of blight in the law passed last summer, and they want to make sure everyone is treated equally in the bill that the Legislature finally sends to voters.

The Decatur Daily: www.decaturdaily.com