Governor's task force calls for axing eminent domain: The Santa Fe NM New Mexican, 11/30/06

By Staci Matlock

Get rid of eminent domain - the ability of local governments to condemn and take private property for economic development.

That was the controversial recommendation made Wednesday by the governor's eminent domain task force in a report to lawmakers at the Capitol. It's liable to become a big topic in January when legislators gather for a 60-day session. ``This is a really hot political issue,'' said task force co-chairman J.D. Bullington, who was among the minority voting against the recommendation.

The task force recently voted 10-7 to recommend removing eminent domain powers from a state law that gives municipalities the ability to condemn properties as ``slum or blight'' and redevelop them to boost economies. It was the only recommendation where task force members split drastically, and largely along rural-urban lines, with most in favor coming from rural areas, according to co-chairman J.D. Bullington.

Other recommendations from the task force include increasing public notice of proposed property condemnations and tightening the definition of slum and blighted areas in the 1979 Metropolitan Redevelopment Act to make it harder for a local government to use eminent domain.

The task force, which was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson, made its recommendations to the interim legislative Water and Natural Resources Committee. Richardson wanted the task force to examine existing laws and hear comments from the public about how eminent domain is used or abused in the state.

New Mexico and other states are revisiting the eminent domain issue following a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the Kelo case. The high court ruled that New London, Conn., could condemn the houses of Susette Kelo and eight of her neighbors, and turn over the waterfront properties to a developer for offices and new homes. The economically depressed city argued the development was for ``the greater public good'' and would generate needed jobs.

Two dozen states have already passed laws restricting the ability of municipalities to make similar moves. ``Some members of (our) task force decided if you really want to make sure Kelo is never an issue, do away with eminent domain,'' Bullington said.
According to the task force report, the state's municipalities so far have rarely used eminent domain for economic development.

Richardson can ignore or use any of the task force recommendations in the final bill he proposes to legislators. Other bills on the subject are likely to be proposed.

``There was something like 11 bills on this last session,'' Bullington said. ``I expect to see that many or more again this session.''

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