Eminent domain proposal must be monitored: Lafayette LA Daily Advertiser, 8/30/06

In two elections - Sept. 30 and Nov. 7 - Louisiana voters will decide the fate of some 20 constitutional amendments. At this point, it appears lawmakers from our area generally agree the hot-button item is an amendment that would place restrictions on expropriations - acts of taking private property under the right of eminent domain for what government decides is in the public good.

Battle lines are forming on the various amendments, and this one is no exception.

Abuse of the right of eminent domain has resulted in private property rights being trampled. The scramble nationwide to change expropriation procedures is a reaction to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows local governments to use the right of eminent domain to force property owners to sell their property to developers.

Such action harms property owners and the concept of property rights. Governments engage in such practices when use of property by developers would provide more tax revenue than that produced under the original ownership.

We believe practices such as forcing residents of an entire neighborhood from their homes and businesses so the land can be turned over to a high-powered company that will increase the government revenue base must be prevented.

While property owners must be protected, the arguments of people such as Paul Loy Hurd of Monroe, a real estate and corporate transaction lawyer, should not be ignored. He claims passage of the amendment would actually expand government's power to take private land. He calls it a "Trojan horse."

The proposal is not perfect. To win approval from the Legislature, sponsors were forced to allow opponents to define those "public purposes" for which government could take property. The list does not seem threatening. Purposes would include acquiring land to build parks, convention centers and museums. There are situations in which exercising the right of eminent domain offers the only avenue for progress. In Lafayette Parish, for example, there have been cases in which property owners unwilling to grant rights-of-way have stymied road and drainage construction essential to keeping pace with growth.

We continue to believe, however, that citizens must be protected against government taking a home or business and putting it in the hands of a politically connected private developer.

What we see as the focus of the opposition to the amendment is not its structure and intent, but the fear that the state will allow it to be misused. The question voters will need to consider is whether the state will provide the level of monitoring and oversight needed to prevent that from happening. Backers of the proposal would do well to show how the integrity of the amendment will be maintained - and show it before election time.

Lafayette LA Daily Advertiser: http://www.theadvertiser.com