From the beginning of our nation's history, our founding fathers recognized that the needs of the public and the rights of private citizens would often be at odds with each other, especially when land was concerned. When framing the U.S. Constitution, they were of the opinion that an individual's private property rights superseded the rights of the government and included a clause which recognizes the sanctity of those private property rights.
However, the founding fathers also recognized that at some point the needs of the many would have to outweigh the needs of the few and included an eminent domain clause.
The clause allowed eminent domain exceptions only when property is needed for "public use" and when the property owner is justly compensated.
When the Ohio Constitution was written 15 years later, state leaders included a similar eminent domain clause stating that "private property ought and shall ever be held inviolate, but always subservient to the public welfare, provided a compensation in money be made to the owner."
In recent years, the definition of "public use" has been interpreted more liberally, often to the point where many citizens are uncomfortable or even outraged at its application.
Most commonly, local governments are using the eminent domain clause to free property for the use of private companies, hoping to encourage economic development or revitalization.
Some argue this is not strict "public use" and the clause should only be used to build government-owned public properties, such as roads or schools. Others argue that the development of commerce and the local economy benefit all people in the community and is therefore a public use of the clause.
Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that local governments cannot seize private property solely for economic development.
The court rebuked the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood for defining a neighborhood as "deteriorating" for the purposes of bulldozing homes for a mall and condominium building. The court's decision was the first by a state supreme court to address the issue of eminent domain since last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. New London case.
In addition to the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling, the Task Force to Study Eminent Domain issued a report calling for changes in Ohio's eminent domain laws. The 25-member task force was created by the legislature after the Kelo v. New London decision to study laws under which the government may take private property.
The task force's report included recommendations that governments should not be allowed to seize homes to clean up blight unless at least half of the properties in that neighborhood are contaminated, unsafe or badly deteriorated and when the government does take property it must fairly compensate property owners for business losses or moving expenses.
Over the next few weeks and months, my colleagues and I will consider many of the proposals made by the task force and decide how best to address the issue of eminent domain in Ohio law. We will continue to work with local governments and supporters of property rights to create a standard definition of blight and address many of the issues brought up by the Ohio Supreme Court and the report of the legislative task force.
Eminent domain has been in use for many years, and it can be a very powerful tool in the revitalization of a neighborhood or community.
We will work hard toward providing legislation that addresses the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling and also protects the rights of property owners while allowing economic growth to continue throughout our state. We have worked hard to bring economic prosperity back to Ohio and we will continue these efforts in the future.
Hillsboro OH Times-Gazette: http://www.timesgazette.com