Proposal targets eminent domain: The Detroit MI News, 10/9/06

Ballot measure seeks to limit government's ability to take private property for public projects

By Ronald J. Hansen

On Michigan's bedsheet ballot Nov. 7, almost lost between marque plans to outlaw affirmative action and increase funding for schools, is a proposal to further restrict the government's ability to take private property from homeowners to make room for projects with a public use.

The constitutional amendment, Proposal 4, would permanently alter the rules in Michigan for eminent domain, the legal tool expanded by the U.S. Supreme Court in a widely criticized ruling last year. In a 5-4 decision, the high court said states can take private property to help make way for private developments that broadly benefit the public.

But the ruling allowed states to set their own rules, and Michigan is one of 12 states considering changes that would bypass the Supreme Court decision.

"There has been an erosion of property rights in this state," said Troy lawyer Alan Ackerman, who often fights eminent domain cases and helped write the language of the proposal. "This will protect property owners. … Just giving people enough money wasn't fair."

The measure's opponents, such as Arnold Weinfeld, who is director of public policy and federal affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, say the proposal isn't needed because of a 2004 state Supreme Court ruling. Weinfeld said Proposal 4 could block even popular development projects.

The measure would:
  • Assure residential property owners are paid at least 125 percent of fair market value.
  • Require governments to prove by clear and convincing evidence that taking the property is necessary for a public use.
  • Prohibit taking property only to promote economic development or increase tax collections.
  • Require that every seized parcel be blighted, if it is in a block of properties that is to be condemned.

Weinfeld said he suspects the proposal will pass.

"It brought together the right and the left politically," he said of eminent domain. "To us, the only question is what percentage it wins by."

Weinfeld said the Michigan Supreme Court already narrowed eminent domain in a 2004 case that effectively overturned the infamous Poletown decision of 1981. Ackerman wanted an amendment to ensure courts couldn't change the law again.

The Detroit MI News: http://www.detnews.com