Senate signs off on eminent domain reform: Atlanta [GA] Business Chronicle, 3/24/06

By Ryan Mahoney

The Georgia Senate on Friday gave its blessing to Gov. Sonny Perdue's broad-based eminent domain reform package.

Senators' 53-0 vote in favor of House Bill 1313 and 52-2 vote for House Resolution 1306 means the state is just a few steps away from adopting eminent domain laws touted by proponents as the most comprehensive in the nation.

Legislators began working in 2005 to eliminate government's power to take private property for economic development after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city of New London, Conn., in just such a case.

Among other changes, the legislation also would strictly define the conditions of blight and public use under which property may be taken; require those conditions be applied on a property-by-property basis, rather than across entire neighborhoods; and require elected city and county officials to sign off when housing and development authorities attempt to use the power.

By a narrow vote of 27-25, senators shot down an amendment by first-term state Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) that would have eliminated entirely government's ability to clear blighted property through eminent domain.

"I believe our Founding Fathers got it right the first time," Chapman said. "The power of eminent domain should be restricted to public use."

He drew fire from powerful Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour (R-Snellville), who sponsored the measures in the upper chamber and said they already are worded to prevent governments from arbitrarily declaring property blighted in order to take it.

"When the cities and counties complain this is too tight," Balfour said, "we've probably done the right thing."

The state House of Representatives, which on March 9 approved the package by a similarly large margin, can either accept the Senate's version or work with it on a compromise in a joint committee.

Assuming Perdue signs whatever they agree on, the final step would be a voter referendum in November to help strengthen the changes.

Atlanta Business Chronicle: http://atlanta.bizjournals.com