Panel's draft wouldn't ban eminent domain in private use: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 3/24/06

By Gregory Korte

A state task force on eminent domain is prepared to recommend only procedural and policy changes in state law - but not a wholesale ban on government takings for economic development.

A draft report circulated among members of the task force Thursday recommends a statewide definition of blight - setting clear standards for when cities can take property for urban renewal.

Those changes, if adopted by the Legislature, would level the playing field for property owners, but preserve the right of cities to take private property.

In doing so, the draft report attempts a balancing act between cities "struggling to make the transition from a manufacturing economy to the new economy" with the right of citizens to "acquire, preserve and pass on property in a way that they see fit."

The 24-member task force - with representation from developers, cities, judges, farmers, small business owners and other interest groups - is only advisory. State lawmakers established it last year as part of a year-long moratorium on government takings for economic development - a reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London that ruled such actions constitutional.

The task force's preliminary report is due next week, after which it will have until August to make specific proposals on key issues:

Compensation: Some on the task force have floated changes that could increase the amount of money property owners receive. They now receive the fair market value as determined by a jury, but lawmakers could add relocation expenses, attorney's fees and punitive damages if the government's initial offer is deemed too low.

Procedures: Under current law, the burden of proof is on a property owner to show the government abused its authority in taking the property. The task force is debating changes that could put the burden on the government - and give property owners the ability to appeal a court decision on the issue even before a jury decides what the property is worth.

Blight: State law allows the government to take all properties in a redevelopment area if a majority of them are blighted. But there's no statewide standard of what constitutes blight, and some argue that one property owner shouldn't be penalized because his neighbor hasn't kept up his property.

Cincinnati Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com