Senators to reveal eminent domain concepts: Wooster OH Daily Record, 2/18/07

By Mark Kovac

Two [Ohio] Republican [state] lawmakers will move next week on separate issues aimed at establishing statewide standards for the use of eminent domain and limiting public entities' ability to take possession of properties for private economic development projects.

Sen. Kevin Coughlin from Cuyahoga Falls will introduce a resolution to place the issue before voters, in the form of a constitutional amendment ensuring the state has authority to set rules for eminent domain in all political subdivisions. Sen. Tim Grendell from Chesterland, meanwhile, will introduce a bill to establish uniform standards that apply across the state.

Both are expected to be introduced Tuesday, according to Senate President Bill Harris, an Ashland Republican, who has endorsed the efforts.

Eminent domain refers to the process by which government entities take possession of private land, generally for public uses.

Coughlin's proposal would ban the use of eminent domain for economic development - that is, for a government entity to take land from one private property owner and transfer it to another for redevelopment. Additionally, it would empower the Legislature to set regulations for eminent domain, including in cities where home rule allows standards to be established locally.

"A person who lives in the city, their property rights are no less important than a person who lives in a township," Coughlin said, adding later, "I have no objection to taking land for public use. Clearly, (government taking land through eminent domain for private developers is) not public use. We need to have some protection against those kinds of takings."

Recent U.S. and Ohio Supreme Court decisions also have affected how eminent domain is used. One allowed local governments to take land in non-blighted areas and transfer it to private entities for redevelopment, while the other raised the standard government must meet in order to take land from a private property owner, according to information compiled by the Senate Republican Caucus. Grendell's bill would focus on objectively defining "blight" properties that are subject to continued building code violations, that are abandoned or that have unpaid taxes, for example.

"We're trying to get a definition of blight to really represent what most Ohioans believe is blighted," he said. "... I don't think private property rights should be taken on a subjective scale."

Grendell said the proposed legislation also would shift the burden more onto the government to demonstrate the need to take private property for public uses and would provide compensation for lost business, relocation and some other costs associated with the process, among other provisions.

"Everybody in Ohio should enjoy the same private property rights protection, regardless of where they live," he said.

Wooster OH Daily Record: http://www.the-daily-record.com