Mayor, Senator Disagree on New Eminent Domain Law: Washington MO Missourian, 8/17/06

By Ed Pruneau

Mayor Dick Stratman and State Sen. John Griesheimer are at opposite ends of the pole concerning a new law that places tighter constraints on the ability of state and local governments to exercise eminent domain.

At last month's meeting of the Washington Area Highway and Transportation Committee, Stratman blasted state lawmakers for passing what he called a "bad law" that is unconstitutional because it "treats people differently."

Griesheimer said he was "taken aback" by Stratman's comments and said the new law is intended to protect the rights of property owners.

The mayor suggested that when the city and Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) begin acquiring right of way for the dual lane Highway 100 project, the city should consider challenging the law on constitutional grounds.

The city and MoDOT are developing an agreement to share the cost, 50-50, to improve Highway 100 to four lanes. The city's share will come from a half-cent transportation sales tax approved by voters last year.

Among other things, the law includes a 25 percent bonus over market value for property if the owner is unwilling to sell. If a property has been owned by the same family for at least 50 years, a public entity would have to pay 150 percent over the appraised value.

That means the cost of acquiring land along Highway 100 could be much greater, up to 50 percent more, than originally expected, potentially leaving the city with less transportation sales tax revenue for local street improvements.

"I'm sorry for that," Griesheimer told The Missourian. "But the bottom line is that the bill was passed to help protect property owners.

"Unfortunately it will cost the city a little more money," Griesheimer added, "but property owners will have additional protection they didn't have before. It cuts both ways."

At last month's transportation committee meeting, Stratman called the eminent domain legislation "a good example of a bad law," and said lawmakers "savaged" the ability of state, county and local governments to acquire right of way for legitimate public projects, "so they could cover their you-know-whats in an election year."

Stratman said the city may contact the Missouri Municipal League to join in a lawsuit.

But that's unlikely, according to Griesheimer.

"The Missouri Municipal League is not going to sue," Griesheimer stated. "He (Stratman) may have a problem with this, but the MML is on board as supporting the law."

The Washington lawmaker said he spoke with Gary Markenson, MML executive director, and the statewide organization supports the legislation.

Griesheimer said he fears that if the law is struck down by the courts it will trigger a statewide initiative petition that could spell the end of eminent domain power in Missouri.

A group that had been pushing for restricting eminent domain "feels that we didn't go far enough with this bill," Griesheimer said.

However, it was a compromise that garnered broad support, he said. The municipal league, the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Association of Counties were among the major organizations involved in drafting the compromise, according to Griesheimer.

"It was truly a stroke of genius," is how Griesheimer described the comprise bill.

"If this law gets knocked out and that ballot initiative passes, we won't have eminent domain in the state," Griesheimer said.

Gov. Matt Blunt, who signed the bill into law in June, was in Washington Monday. When asked about the dispute, Blunt said he didn't agree with Mayor Stratman's statements and that supports the measure.

Washington MO Missourian: http://www.zwire.com