Bill limiting eminent domain use moves forward: Belleville (MO) News Democrat, 4/3/06

By Chris Blank, Associated Press

A [Missouri] House panel endorsed a scaled-back proposal [HB 1944] Monday intended to protect property owners faced with losing their land, homes or businesses through eminent domain.

Before approving the measure, the House Judiciary Committee first stripped out some of the provisions that had been included in the original bill to protect property owners.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bryan Pratt said the panel faced a daunting challenge in balancing attempts to better protect property owners from abuses while ensuring it is still possible to redevelop urban areas.

Pratt, R-Blue Springs, said eminent domain should be limited to clear cases of public use, and the committee's changes would "go a long ways to stopping eminent domain abuse in Missouri."

Concerns about the taking of private property have grown nationwide after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer upheld the right of local governments to condemn private property so it can be transferred to other private entities that could generate more taxes.

But Leslie Holloway, the Missouri Farm Bureau's director of government affairs, said the changes made for a weaker bill.

"This will cut back on eminent domain abuse in Missouri, but the original bill might be more effective," she said.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, adopted most of the recommendations made last December by a gubernatorial task force charged with studying eminent domain. He said his goal is to limit when property could be taken through eminent domain and make sure landowners who will lose their land understand their legal rights and are fairly compensated.

He said despite the changes he still supports the bill. But he would like to make it more difficult to take private property for economic development and ensure landowners are reimbursed for losing land they have owned for a long time.

The provisions in the new proposal that soften the initial legislation include:
  • The removal of a requirement that property taken through eminent domain either be declared "blighted" or be for public use.
  • Allowing all the property in an area slotted for redevelopment that is "predominantly blighted" to be taken - whether each individual property is actually blighted or not.
  • Backing up when landowners must be given written notice spelling out their rights from 30 days before actual negotiations begin to 30 days before formal proceedings are filed with a court seeking the property.
  • Requiring groups that seek private property to pay for an appraisal only if the land is worth more than $15,000.
  • Eliminating requirements that landowners be reimbursed for factors such as how long the property owner had owned the land and the expected future profits to be gleaned from transferring it to a new owner.

Rep. Michael Vogt, who was the lone member of the committee to vote against the proposal, said the city of St. Louis should be exempted from the bill because the restrictions go too far and would hamstring redevelopment efforts there.

Vogt, D-St. Louis, said he thinks the bill would work in rural and suburban areas but would do more harm than good to efforts to reclaim old neighborhoods.

"For the first time in a generation, the arrow is pointing up," he said. "Now, we've got the Farm Bureau trying to stop us from being able to keep our progress up. The city of St. Louis needs to have the tool of eminent domain."

The bill must next be approved by the House Rules Committee, which will either set a debate schedule for the bill or refer it back to the House Judiciary Committee for more changes.

Belleville News Democrat: http://www.belleville.com