Eminent Domain Reform: Minnesota House of Representatives, 3/8/06

By State Representative Gregory M. Davids

Eminent domain has risen to the top of hot political issues being discussed since the Kelo vs. New London decision in 2005. There is much confusion surrounding this issue, and I would like to try to clear the air.

The Kelo vs. New London decision was handed down by the U.S Supreme Court last summer. While the Supreme Court upheld the ability of local governments to take property for private economic development purposes, the majority opinion also stated that there is nothing in the Court’s decision to prevent states from placing further restrictions on eminent domain uses. Several bills were introduced by Minnesota legislators, who were meeting in a special session when the Kelo vs. New London decision was announced. My name was on the two bipartisan bills that were introduced as a response to Kelo vs. New London.

The need to reform Minnesota’s eminent domain laws is not a partisan issue. Neither liberals nor conservatives nor anyone in between have a corner on this issue. On January 5th, a press conference was held at the capitol to outline the major elements of a bill that would reform our eminent domain laws. Chief authors Rep. Jeff Johnson (R – Plymouth) and Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL – Cook) stated that while a few people might think the legislation goes too far, some others may believe that it does not go far enough.

The three key provisions of their proposal include: 1) a prohibition of government entities from forcing the transfer of private property to other private entities; 2) a requirement to compensate for the value of a business as well as the value of the property when taking business property for legitimate public purposes; and 3) a provision for reimbursement of attorney fees if a taking is successfully challenged.

A broad spectrum of groups was present at the January 5th press conference to support this proposed legislation. A sample representation of supporters includes the Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, NAACP, National Federation of Independent Business, Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny.

However, no one drove the point home at the January 5th press conference better than Jim and Beverly Meide, a couple from Champlin who live in their dream home and simply want to live out their lives in that house. The Meides are worried about the prospect of their home being taken by the city – not for a school or road construction or a public facilities project – but for condominiums and a marina along the city’s riverfront.

Anyone who says that eminent domain laws are not abused in Minnesota needs to think back no longer than a decade, when the City of Richfield condemned homes and small businesses to make way for the Best Buy headquarters. I believe our nation’s founders would turn over in their graves if they knew that the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment was abused to this extent. No amount of new tax revenue for a local government is worth disrupting the lives of private homeowners and small business owners.

I introduced legislation to address this issue in the special session last year, and will introduce similar legislation the 2006 legislative session. However, I will support any bill that protects the private property rights of individual homeowners and small business people against an overzealous government chomping at the bit to close a deal on that next big development. Private property rights have been a crucial element of our individual freedom since our nation’s founders wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights. There is nothing partisan about private property rights and I gladly promote and defend them.

Gregory M. Davids is Chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy Committee: rep.greg.davids@house.mn