5/08/2006

Lawmakers take up bill to limit eminent domain takings: Boston (MA) Globe, 3/16/06

By Cara Rubinsky, Associated Press

After months of discussion, [Connecticut] lawmakers are considering dueling bills that would limit when cities and towns can seize property to make way for private development. The Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on two bills at noon Friday. The Planning and Development Committee has already held a hearing on a third bill.

Lawmakers said they're confident eminent domain reform will pass this legislative session, but they're not yet sure what form it will take.

Connecticut is one of 47 states re-examining eminent domain laws after the U.S. Supreme Court sparked national outrage by ruling last summer that the city of New London could take homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood to make way for private development.

Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Virginia-based Institute for Justice who represented the Fort Trumbull homeowners, said his group supports a bill proposed by House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford.

That bill, one of the two scheduled for consideration Friday, would prevent any taking of private property for private development.

"People don't feel safe in their homes when they know the government can take them to give to somebody who'll pay more taxes," Ward said.

Bullock said his group opposes the other bill, which was proposed by the Judiciary Committee.

It would require development agencies to determine that seizing property benefits the public more than any private entity. It would also prohibit agencies from seizing property only to increase local tax revenue.

Bullock said New London would have met that bill's criteria because the New London project, a riverfront development, will create jobs in addition to increasing tax revenue.

"It is bogus eminent domain reform, and it will not protect home and small business owners," Bullock said.

The bill would give the original property owner the first chance to buy back a property if it is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired. It would also require agencies to pay property owners at least 125 percent of the market value of their properties.

Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said the committee's bill makes meaningful changes, and would prevent taking property just to make way for private development that would generate more tax revenue.

"They're just against eminent domain period, which is OK, but not everybody agrees with them," Lawlor said.

Ward says he is confident his bill would win passage by the full House, but he isn't sure Democrats who oppose it will allow it to get that far. He said the other bill has good elements but may not go far enough.

"The law that allowed the takings to occur in New London should be changed if it's real reform, and one of the bills being proposed doesn't do that," he said.

Ward's bill would also create a state Office of Property Rights Ombudsman to educate property owners about their rights and help them in disputes. He said such an office has been helpful in Utah.

Meanwhile, the six Fort Trumbull homeowners who have refused to leave are in negotiations with New London to stay in their homes.


Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com