Two competing eminent domain bills produced a standoff on a Senate panel Monday. It's a good thing the vote was postponed. Both bills are flawed.
Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, who chairs the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, delayed a vote on a measure that had been previously approved by the Assembly. Rice was hoping to push a vote on his own bill. Rice and the sponsor of the Assembly bill, John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, should sit down and come up with amended bills that combine the strongest elements of each — and then some.
They should ask for help from lawmakers who have sponsored other measures that would take their proposals further, including Sens. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who sponsored a measure that would limit pay-to-play in eminent domain cases. They also should involve Sens. Peter Inverso, R-Mercer, and Diane Allen, R-Burlington, who have proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit government's use of eminent domain to only "essential public purposes." Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen also should be seated at the table.
The measure before the Senate, a companion bill to one spearheaded by Burzichelli, was endorsed by Chen, even though it didn't include a pay-to-play ban or strong enough affordable-housing provisions. Adding them to the Senate version would go a long way toward protecting the state's property owners.
In pushing his own bill, Rice said, "We have a better product here, on everybody's account, including the public advocate's." But Chen has justifiable concerns with Rice's bill, which doesn't go far enough in defining blighted land or fairly compensating property owners. Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's state chapter, said Rice's measure would hasten the permitting process for developers.
Sen. Leonard T. Connors Jr., R-Ocean, who says the use of eminent domain used for private development is a "swinging door to corruption," sits on the panel chaired by Rice. Connors should push for a meeting of the minds on the related bills, culling the strongest points of each.
If they are added to the Burzichelli bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, New Jersey residents finally would have the long-overdue protections they need against abuse of eminent domain.
Asbury Park NJ Press: http://www.app.com