At issue: The new state law sponsored by Sen. Cameron Brown limiting use of eminent domain to appropriate private property.
Our view: This law clarifies the rights of Michigan residents and rolls back government power to reasonable levels.
One of the more important laws passed by the Michigan Legislature this past term received less attention than it deserved.
Public Act 368, sponsored in the Senate by Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River Twp., tightens Michigan law regarding when government may invoke eminent domain to seize private property. The timing was excellent in view of misguided federal court rulings on the topic as well as a recent case in Monroe County and shrinking open space nationwide.
Under the new law, signed Thursday by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, state and local governments may only use eminent domain to take private property if the government can prove a public use and if affected property owners are paid at least 125 percent of fair market value. It also restricts the ability of government to declare an area “blighted.”
It prohibits taking property for economic development projects, enhanced tax revenue or use by private companies.
The new law was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in the Kelo v. New London case that allowed a city government to condemn homes in order to turn land over to a private developer. The ruling further eroded the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation — and we have no doubt the framers intended that private property should not be taken for someone else’s private use at all.
The Kelo case occurred in Connecticut, but nearby events show a threat exists in Michigan. Last week a group of Erie Township property owners sued US Rail Corp. of Toledo, saying the railroad had threatened some residents with eminent domain if they refused to sell. It’s possible a court may find the railroad’s plan to acquire 300 acres for a railyard to be a legitimate public use. However, Brown’s bill ensured some of the more abusive tactics — seeking “blight” status or inadequate payment, for example — will no longer be legal.
Similarly, Proposal 4 on the November ballot would make the same limits contained in PA 368 part of the state constitution. Brown indicated backers of eminent domain reform had hoped one or the other, and ideally both, would win passage. That seems likely given the broad support Brown’s bill enjoyed. He reported working with more than a dozen groups ranging from the Michigan Association of Counties to the American Civil Liberties Union.
It isn’t enough, though, that a coalition of groups believe Michigan residents needed PA 368. It’s important residents themselves understand why they need to keep eminent domain tightly restricted. Hopefully, those who govern will consider the new costs and restrictions before they contemplate taking anyone’s private property.
Adrian MI Daily Telegram: http://www.lenconnect.com