5/11/2006

Eminent domain legislation passed by Senate; blight amendment fails by one vote: ECM Publishers (Coon Rapids MN), 3/28/06

By T.W. Budig

The [Minnesota] Senate passed eminent domain legislation on Monday (March 27) and came within a vote of eliminating “blight” as an acceptable reason for the use of condemnation by government.

“One person’s blight is another person’s bliss,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who supported removing blight from the eminent domain lexicon.

As defined in the Senate bill, a blighted area is where 50 percent or more of the buildings are structurally substandard — the building is unsafe or to remedy its outstanding code violations would cost more than half the value of the building.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, proposed an amendment that would have stricken blight from the Senate bill.

“I like the flavor of your amendment,” said Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, Senate eminent domain bill author. But Bakk explained he could not support it. “This is an issue that breaks the deal,” said Bakk, referring to a loose agreement between government associations and eminent domain reform activists.

But Sen. Mike Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, supported the amendment. Jungbauer argued that many older homes are probably out of code — gist for eminent domain action.

Ortman’s amendment drew a tied vote; tied votes fail.

Four DFLers sided with Republicans on the amendment vote.

An attempt to increase the blight definition threshold from more than 50 percent to 75 percent also failed, though the vote was less close.

Eventually, the eminent domain bill passed the Senate with just two dissenting votes.

One of its provisions includes an entitlement for attorney’s fees when property owners can prove that eminent domain on their property is not for public use.

Another is that businesses may be compensated for the loss of their business beyond the loss of property when the business cannot be relocated.

Interest sparked by U.S. Supreme Court ruling
Interest in eminent domain reform was sparked by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld that private property can be taken for economic development through eminent domain and transferred to other private owners.

Current eminent domain legislation doesn’t entirely rule out such an scenario in Minnesota.

But Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, who is carrying eminent domain legislation in the House, explained that laws are being tightened. “New London can’t happen; but economic development still can,” said Johnson, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court case. “But you’ve got to show something is wrong with the property,” said Johnson.

“I do not think government should take someone’s property and transfer it to another for economic development when there’s nothing wrong with the property,” he said.

Johnson hopes his eminent domain bill will be on the House floor sometime next week.

He’s certain an eminent domain bill will pass the Legislature this session.

Johnson believes the House eminent domain legislation in several areas is stricter than the more “government friendly” Senate bill.


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