Eminent domain measures won't hinder Murdock Village: Charlotte (FL) Sun Herald, 4/07/06

By Barry Millman

The Florida House of Representatives approved three measures Thursday that supporters say will enhance protections for private property owners when local and state governments wield the power of eminent domain.

Advocates for Charlotte County say the legislation will likely have little or no impact on the county's use of that statutory power, which is used by governments to take private property for public purposes with just compensation to the owners.

The House bills will now be presented for consideration in the Senate, where a similar initiative was amended earlier this week to likewise shield from its impact existing redevelopment projects involving the use of eminent domain, like Murdock Village in Charlotte County.

"It should have no effect on Charlotte County's present or future use of CRAs or eminent domain," said County Commissioner Matt DeBoer of the House legislation. "Our main concern was the 73 lots in Murdock Village acquired through eminent domain that are not yet all the way through the appeals process, and the House legislation as written will not affect that."

Cari Roth, a lobbyist for the county who worked closely with lawmakers to ensure protections were included for ongoing projects like Murdock Village, said she would remain vigilant as the measures undergo consideration in the Senate.

"Charlotte County is in good shape for now," she said after Thursday's votes in the House. "We worked hard to make sure of that. We're not there yet though, and we'll be keeping a close watch in the Senate until it's done."

DeBoer, who has traveled to Tallahassee several times to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the county about the initiative, and Roth both said they had secured assurances from key senators that the protections for ongoing redevelopment projects like Murdock Village would remain in the final version of the legislation.

The first of the three measures approved Thursday, HB 1567, sets statutory limits on the use of eminent domain. The second and third, HJR 1569 and HJR 1571, propose amendments to the Florida Constitution concerning the use of eminent domain that would need to be approved by Florida voters when they vote in November elections.

HB 1567 and HJR 1571 passed the House with the approval of all 116 members present in the chamber. HJR 1569 passed by a vote of 92-23.

All three measures were sponsored by Speaker Designate Marco Rubio, R-Miami, who chaired the House Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights, established by House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, following last summer's Kelo vs. City of New London, Connecticut decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

That decision was seen by many as a potential precedent for using eminent domain strictly for economic development purposes, and triggered a immediate review of relevant laws in nearly every state legislature in the country.

The measures approved by the House on Thursday were based on the recommendations of the Select Committee chaired by Rubio.

"We've heard from property owners across Florida who are rightly concerned that they may become the targets of government's economic development efforts through eminent domain," said Rubio in a statement released following the votes. "Today's action by the House affirms Florida's reputation as a state where private property rights are sure and secure."

Florida law allows its local and state governments to use eminent domain to acquire land for infrastructure, environmental and public safety needs, and bars counties and cities from utilizing its community redevelopment authority without first determining that an area to be redeveloped is either a slum or blighted.

"Some local officials may be loosely using terms like 'slum' and 'blight' to justify property takings which are actually economic development projects," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who served on the Select Committee. "We want to prevent such abuses of eminent domain in Florida, and we believe that Floridians will join us in this cause with their vote at the ballot box."

Taken together, the three measures form a comprehensive strategy for ensuring that economic development projects cannot masquerade as projects of legitimate public interest, and protect homeowners affected by eminent domain from the loss of their Save Our Homes tax break.

HJR 1569 would amend the state constitution to prohibit the transfer of property taken by eminent domain to another private property owner within five years, with certain narrowly drawn exceptions.

HB 1567 puts the same restriction into state law, and lays out specific guidelines and limits on the use of eminent domain when used under the Community Redevelopment Act.

HJR 1571 would amend the state constitution to allow Floridians whose homestead property is taken through eminent domain to retain a property tax rate within three percent of their original assessment on their next homestead purchase.

Charlotte Sun Herald: http://www.sun-herald.com