Eminent Domain Legislation Signed Into Law: KMBC-TV9 (Kansas City MO), 7/13/06

Critics Say Reforms Focus On Helping Those In Rural Areas

[Missouri] Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation restricting use of eminent domain Thursday, saying it bolsters the rights of private property owners.

The measure comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling last summer that allowed the taking of private property through eminent domain for economic redevelopment.

"That's not a sufficient standard," Blunt said while surrounded by farm and business interests and lawmakers at a Capitol bill signing ceremony.

Blunt called the bill "a tremendous step forward for homeowners and family farm owners and property rights in our state."

The Missouri law bars the taking of private property "solely" to increase taxes or create jobs. In addition, property owners whose land, homes or small businesses are condemned under the new standards would get a boost in their compensation. An earlier version of the bill would have set a tougher standard of barring property taking for "predominantly" economic development reasons.

"Owning private property is as sacred an issue as anything we have in this country," said Charlie Kruse, Missouri Farm Bureau president, adding that with the new law, "it's going to be a higher hurdle, which it should be, to climb in order to take people's property from them."

The Farm Bureau had raised concerns during the legislative process that the bill wasn't doing enough to protect private property owners but was satisfied with the end result.

Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, said the law recognizes that fair market value is not a sufficient standard when taking property by eminent domain because the property owner is unwilling to leave. So the law includes a 25 percent bonus, and if a home or small business has been owned by the same family for at least 50 years, a 50 percent bonus.

The measure also bars blighting of farmland, a trigger for taking property through eminent domain. But lawmakers did not change the definition of blight, even though some say its original intent has been stretched to the point of abuse.

Critics have said the reforms focus on helping farmers and those in rural areas while doing little to help city dwellers.

The Arlington, Va.-based Institute of Justice praised the changes in law, including the limits on which entities can use eminent domain power and the ban on blighting of farmland. But the organization, which pushes to protect personal property rights, said Missouri's blight definition still needs to be narrowed.

"Even with this bill, the state's blight laws still contain such broad, sweeping language that leave perfectly fine homes and businesses at risk of being condemned," said lawyer Steven Anderson, coordinator of the institute's Castle Coalition.

"Citizens will only have meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse when blight can only be used to describe property that is an actual danger to public health or safety."

Missouri is the 27th state to enact eminent domain restrictions following the 2005 Supreme Court ruling, according to the institute.

Under the new Missouri law, property owners also would get more information about the proceedings. The bill includes a "Property Owner's Bill of Rights," which those subject to eminent domain takings must receive, explaining what property a condemner seeks, why it's wanted and the landowner's legal rights, such as getting an appraisal at the condemner's cost.

KMBC-TV9: http://www.thekansascitychannel.com