Ohio Senate wants to restrict use of eminent domain: Cleveland OH Plain Dealer, 2/17/07

By Reginald Fields

Limiting local governments' use of eminent domain will be the Ohio Senate's priority when the upper chamber of the General Assembly convenes next week.

The GOP-led Senate plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would carefully define and establish a statewide standard for using eminent domain, while separately calling for a constitutional amendment that would assure state rules on this subject override local laws.

In a nutshell, the two measures will set the stage for yet another angry battle between local and state governments.

"There is a need to bring consistency and fairness to the process by which government can take land from private property owners," said Senate President Bill Harris, an Ashland Republican, who added he hopes both measures can draw bipartisan support.

Local governments, meanwhile, have argued that their home rule rights established in the Ohio Constitution allow them to set their own standards for eminent domain, whether for infrastructure projects or private and economic development.

An effort by state lawmakers to restrict eminent domain was not unexpected. A 25-member task force appointed to study the issue wrapped up late last year, promising to bring a constitutional amendment to the November 2007 ballot.

In particular, the split task force recommended that Ohio come up with a uniform definition for blight, which would become a standard for government to seize land.

The task force was organized in the wake of two significant eminent domain court decisions.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed non-blighted land in Connecticut to be taken and handed over to a private developer. An Ohio Supreme Court ruling later established a higher eminent domain threshold - just not high enough for some.

Sen. Timothy Grendell, a Chester Township Republican, will introduce a bill that defines blight, with some exceptions for agricultural land, according to the Senate Republican Caucus.

The bill also would allow for public input and possible attorney fees in property disputes with local governments.

Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Cuyahoga Falls Republican who will introduce the constitutional amendment, said eminent domain should be used only to benefit the public as a whole and not private developers.

"Our laws should reflect that and leave no wiggle room for government to abuse its power," he said.

Cleveland OH Plain Dealer: http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer