Political fallout of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision became more tangible on Thursday (April 6) with the House passing eminent domain reform.
“I think when a lot of Minnesotans heard about that they were shocked,” said Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, of the recent U.S. Supreme Court Kelo v. City of New London ruling.
In the decision, the high court ruled private property could be taken by eminent domain and transferred to private ownership.
It sparked a nationwide reexamination of eminent domain — previously a sideshow at the Legislature.
Johnson portrayed the House bill as stricter than recently passed Senate eminent domain reform legislation.
He pointed to the treatment of urban blight — the imposition of court costs onto local government when a property owner successfully obtains a price 20 percent greater than last offer — of the burden of proof falling onto government that an eminent domain action hadn’t crippled a business, as examples of a tougher bill.
“But they’re both really strong,” said Johnson, speaking after the 115-17 House vote.
He indicated agreement between the House and Senate could readily be found in conference committee.
One of the big fights on the House floor was over lawmakers' attempts to amend the legislation as to protect local redevelopment efforts.
Rep. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, attempted to amend the bill to allow projects greater than $750,000 to be exempt from the retroactive April 1 effective date of the legislation.
Off the House floor, Goodwin explained the City of Columbia Heights was engaged in a redevelopment project off Central Avenue.
She was worried, Goodwin explained, enactment of the legislation could leave the city with unsaleable property. “The best solution (to the quandary) is to get my amendment on,” she said.
But the House floor, Johnson argued that obviously the City of Columbia Height was looking to use eminent domain — something Goodwin downplayed — or Goodwin wouldn’t be offering the amendment.
Several lawmakers raised the question of how much the eminent domain reform would cost state and local government — the Department of Transportation, for instance — but Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, spoke in defense of the bill.
“Current law is flawed policy,” said Olson. “I would suggest to members there’s cost because it’s owed,” he said.
The House eminent domain bill was successfully amended to offer exemptions to tax increment financing districts.
Johnson said his legislation doesn’t wholly prevent government’s use of eminent domain, but makes its application more difficult.
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