State Sen. Neville's eminent domain bill gets committee endorsement: Farmington NM Daily Times, 2/9/07

By Walter Rubel

A bill that would prohibit local governments from using eminent domain laws for economic development purposes was endorsed Thursday by the Senate Public Affairs Committee.

Senate Bill 401, sponsored by Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, would remove the ability to condemn property from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Code. That is the only piece of existing legislation that allows the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes, according to former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley, who served on a task force last year to look at the state's eminent domain laws.

Eminent domain allows a government entity to condemn property, and pay the owner fair market value when land is needed for public use. It has traditionally been used for things such as roads and utility lines. But a Supreme Court ruling in 2005 said that a community in Connecticut was within its rights when it used eminent domain to take land to make way for a new commercial development.

Neville pushed through a bill last year in response to that ruling.

Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed the bill and formed a task force to look at the problem. The task force had recommended repeal of eminent domain from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Code, and Richardson supported that decision.

"Last year's bill was more of a shotgun approach. This is a very surgical instrument," Neville said. He said it would leave in place all of the traditional uses for eminent domain.

Neville is a real estate appraiser by trade and told committee members he has been involved in several negotiations for things such as public right of way. He said even the threat of condemnation will force people to sell homes and property against their will.

"Even though they are being paid fair economic value, it does not compensate for a home that has been in your family for generations," he said.

Bill Fulginiti, executive director of the New Mexico Municipal League, said repeal of the existing law would prevent cities from being able to deal with slums and blighted areas.

"Municipal officials were elected to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents," Fulginiti said. "If areas are truly blighted and have slum conditions, it would be irresponsible not to deal with that issue."

But Neville said those situations could be dealt with through public nuisance laws.

The bill now goes to the Judiciary Committee.

A separate bill, which would limit municipalities' use of eminent domain to within city boundaries, was also endorsed Thursday by the Public Affairs Committee.

Farmington NM Daily Times: http://www.daily-times.com