Protection from eminent domain abuse is coming: WIchita KS Eagle, 3/28/07

By Steven Anderson

Real eminent domain protection is about to come to Kansas.

Home and small-business owners across the state have this year's Legislature to thank for beating back an effort by the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse.

Last year, Kansas enacted historic reforms that prohibit local governments from taking property by force for private economic development. This problem gained national attention and infamy after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

Kansas was one of more than 30 states that enacted protections against the use of eminent domain for private gain in the aftermath of the dreadful Kelo ruling, though the Kansas law does still allow the Legislature to approve condemnation for economic development, unfortunately.

One important provision of the Kansas property-rights legislation, however, was its effective date: July 1, 2007. So while Kansas was widely known as one of the worst abusers in the country of the power of eminent domain - tellingly called the "despotic power" by the Supreme Court - the commonsense property protections do not begin until this summer.

This legislative session, Senate Bill 296 threatened to take away some property protections by allowing the use of eminent domain for the removal of so-called "blight."

For far too long, local governments have claimed blight removal - or its sibling, urban renewal - as a backdoor method to forcefully transfer property from one private individual to another.

As I told both the Senate judiciary and commerce committees last session, it is a place to tread very carefully, especially in Kansas, whose constitution does not contain a public use clause and whose Supreme Court has ruled that economic development is a proper use of the eminent domain power.

But because the power of eminent domain was abused so often in Kansas, the Legislature joined a number of other states, such as Florida and the Dakotas, to make sure home and small-business owners would not lose their properties for the purpose of removing blight.

To its credit, the Senate Judiciary Committee did not send S.B. 296 to the full chamber, so the threat this year is gone. Soon there will be meaningful and near complete protection against eminent domain abuse for all landowners in Kansas. Beginning in July, all Kansans, regardless of where they live or what they own, will be far more secure.

That does not mean, however, that threats will not arrive again. As they did this year, those who benefit most from the use of eminent domain for private profit - notably land-hungry private developers and tax-hungry government officials - will be back in the Legislature with even further efforts to roll back the protections.

Sadly, entrenched special interests will continue to use their money and power to chip away at eminent domain reforms. This has already occurred in Utah, which passed comprehensive reform in 2005 only to see those protections cheapened in 2007.

To prevent that from happening in Kansas, you will need to remain vigilant. Otherwise, local governments easily may be able to snatch away what is rightfully yours.

WIchita KS Eagle: http://www.kansas.com

Steven Anderson is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a law firm in Arlington, Va., that litigated the Kelo case: www.ij.org