House passes eminent domain restrictions: Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune, 4/13/06

By Josh Flory

If nothing else, the speaker was impressed.

The Missouri House this morning approved a measure that would impose new restrictions on the government’s ability to take private property through eminent domain. The issue has been a top priority for legislative leaders after last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case that upheld a municipality’s right to seize property for private developments that generate tax revenue.

The measure won first-round approval yesterday on a vote of 150 to 7. Rep. Steve Hobbs, a Mexico Republican who represents part of northern Columbia, sponsored the bill and helped direct traffic during more than six hours of debate.

Shortly after last night’s vote, House Speaker Rod Jetton approached Hobbs in a side gallery. "Who would have dreamed that you could" get "this bill passed with seven nos?" Jetton said.

There’s still plenty of work to do. The bill likely will face changes in the Senate. After the debate yesterday, Hobbs said the effort was a good start.

"Is it perfect?" he said. "No. Is it what everyone wants? No. But is it the best we can do here today? I believe so."

The bill clearly wasn’t what the Missouri Farm Bureau wanted. In a statement, Charles Kruse, president of the influential organization, said the bill didn’t answer the call of Missourians to stop eminent domain abuse.

The House, Kruse said, had "bowed to the pressures of developers, utility companies and other special interests in tentatively approving a watered-down version of eminent domain reform legislation."

The bill makes several changes, including a ban on the use of eminent domain solely for economic development purposes or to take property where a place of worship has been located for at least 10 years. The bill does allow the use of eminent domain to take property in blighted areas, even specific parcels that are not blighted.

Rural and urban lawmakers clashed over the exact terms used in the portion of the law that bans taking property "solely" for economic development, defined as boosting the tax base, tax revenue or jobs. Rural lawmakers, including Rep. Wayne Henke, D-Troy, pushed for language banning the use of eminent domain on projects that are "primarily" for economic development.

Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, argued that the "solely" standard was too narrow. For example, she said, it would be easy for a developer to condemn a group of homes to build a mall, then dedicate a small space - such as a community meeting room - for public use.

But urban lawmakers said the "primarily" standard would inhibit economic development in cities.

Hobbs had previously called for the "primarily" standard, but said last night that he changed his mind after talking to eminent domain lawyers who said that wording would cause more cases to go to condemnation proceedings.

The bill includes a premium for sellers who have owned their property for a long time by requiring that the calculation for damages caused by eminent domain take into account a property’s "heritage value." An amendment offered by Hobbs added 1 percent to the fair market value for every year the property has been owned by the same family. The heritage value of a property would be capped at 100 percent.

Legislators kept intact the definition of a blighted area that can be targeted for redevelopment using eminent domain. The definition includes outmoded design, age or obsolescence that contribute to health problems or crime.

All five lawmakers who represent Boone County voted in favor of the bill.

Columbia Daily Tribune: http://www.columbiatribune.com