Senate panel moves to limit eminent domain: Huntington (WV) Herald Dispatch, 2/4/06

By Jenifer Bundy, Associated Press

Cities [in West Virginia] could continue to use eminent domain to take private property but that right would have new restrictions under a bill a Senate panel endorsed Friday.

The Senate Economic Development Committee gutted a bill (HB4048) the House passed last month and replaced it with provisions that spell out the circumstances under which eminent domain can be used. All the reasons involve a future "public use" of the property.

The new version specifically says "public use" does not include using the property for private economic development.

Urban renewal authorities still could use eminent domain to take property designated as a slum or blighted area. The bill says urban renewal authorities must give notice to property owners when they intend to condemn land.

The House bill would have repealed the slum and blight exceptions in current state law.

Republicans and Democrats alike have sought to restrict eminent domain since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that economic development, with its promise of jobs and tax revenue, counts as a "public purpose" that can trigger eminent domain.

"We need to do some more work on the bill as it passes through the process," said Sen. Don Caruth, R-Mercer.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, the chairman of the committee, agreed.

McCabe said his goal was to give opponents and supporters of the House and Senate bills a chance to talk to senators and then frame their arguments in a bill that the Senate Government Organization Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee can perfect. The chairmen of both those committees sit on McCabe's committee.

"A bill will ultimately come out of the Senate that focuses on taking for private economic gain," said McCabe, D-Kanawha. "Some of the other issues probably will have to be looked at in interim studies. There's a lot to it."

Lisa Dooley, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League, said the league supports the Senate version.

Herald Dispatch: www.herald-dispatch.com