Lawmakers, Lawyers Split On Eminent Domain Reform: North Country Gazette (Chestertown NY), 5/6/06

With opposition from the New York State Bar Association [NYSBA] and legal counsel for New York City, the state Senate Judiciary Committee led by chairman John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) has passed four bills by three different legislators seeking to protect private property from government taking for private economic development purposes.

After the U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark and highly controversial ruling last year in Kelo v. City of New London, numerous bills were introduced in the legislature involving the eminent domain issue. The Kelo decision reaffirmed the power of local governments to seize private property for economic development purposes. The Court also approved the longstanding role of state Legislatures to restrict or expand this grant of authority.

NYSBA president Vincent A. Buzard and NYC Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo claim that Kelo has had minimal impact in the state and say that and modifications to eminent domain law would undermine the public interest.

Buzard and the NYSBA have called for a study commission to be formed but DeFranciso says that the last time the Legislature appointed such a body to address the eminent domain issue, it took seven years before any legislation was proposed and that such delay wasn't "responsive government".

Two of the bills passed by the Senate committee were sponsored by DeFranciso. Bill S5938 "clarifies that the exercise of eminent domain powers should be reserved for those public infrastructures and services commonly provided by government" such as "transportation, public safety, recreation, water supply and sanitation facilities".

DeFrancisco also sponsored S5961 concurrently with the state Assembly which would amend the state Constitution to bar the taking or transfer of private property to another private party for purposes of economic development.

Sen. Carl L. Marcellino, (R-Long Island) has sponsored S5936 which amends the Eminent Domain Procedure Law to permit the state to take property for economic development reasons only in blighted areas.

A bill prohibiting the use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another, S7358, is sponsored by Sen. Michael A.L. Balboni (R-Nassau County).

A legislative package on eminent domain consisting of five bills was introduced in the Assembly last October by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Greenburgh) which included a bipartisan two-house bill that creates a temporary state commission to study the state's eminent domain laws as suggested by Buzard and the NYSBA.

Currently, NYS allows quasi-public entities to employ eminent domain, such as public authorities, industrial development agencies and local development corporations. These institutions are shielded from traditional public scrutiny, which allows them to use eminent domain without public debate and broad community support.

Both Buzard and Cardozo claim that New York state law has sufficient protections regarding eminent domain. Some members of the Judiciary Committee voted against the bills or "without recommendation" which means they don't oppose the bills' advancement but might vote against them if they reach the floor for a full Senate vote. Buzard and Cardozo claim they lawmakers are moving too fast and without a detailed study.

North Country Gazette: http://www.northcountrygazette.org