League dislikes proposed eminent domain bill: Alamogordo NM Daily News, 12/20/06

By Walter Rubel

[New mexico] Gov. Bill Richardson endorsed proposed legislation Tuesday that would restrict the ability of local governments to exercise powers of eminent domain.

Under the proposal, eminent domain powers would be removed from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Act, and both the Urban Renewal Law and the Community Development Law would be repealed. It would not interfere with traditional uses of eminent domain in other existing law.

Richardson vetoed a bill passed this year that had been introduced by Farmington lawmakers Rep. Richard Cheney and Sen. Steve Neville. He said Tuesday the new proposal recommended by a task force he created at the time of the veto will have protections for local governments that the 2006 bill lacked.

"The bill that I vetoed last session would have created more problems than it resolved," he said. "The task force produced a solution that is more realistic, and will not prevent municipalities from cleaning up nuisance properties that place communities at risk. Most importantly, it will protect private property owners from unnecessary condemnation."

However, William Fulginiti, executive director of the New Mexico Municipal League, said that organization strongly opposed the new bill and would work to stop its passage. He said a majority of the task force did not vote in favor of the proposal.
"We think the power of eminent domain should be left in the Metropolitan Redevelopment Act as a tool of last resort when you are trying to clean up slums and blight," he said.

Eminent domain is the power of local governments to condemn a property and pay the owner fair market value. Typically, it has been used for necessary infrastructure, such as for roads or utility lines, or to clean up blighted areas.

But in 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that eminent domain could also be used to condemn property to make way for commercial development. That sparked both controversy and a flood of legislation at the state level seeking to restore protection for property owners.

Fulginiti said there has never been an abuse of eminent domain in New Mexico, and what happened in the controversial Kelso case could not happen in New Mexico under current laws.

But Ben Ward, a deputy legal counsel to the governor who worked with the task force, said the intent of the proposed bill is to eliminate the potential for abuse.

He said by removing eminent domain from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Act, they were directly targeting the use of those powers for economic development purposes.

Sen. Neville said he would take a close look at Richardson's proposal between now and the start of the legislative session next month to ensure it provides the needed protections for property owners.

"I think it's a good approach, but there still may be some loopholes," Neville said. "I haven't gotten a legal opinion yet to see if it's something we should be worried about."

Alamogordo NM Daily News: http://www.alamogordonews.com