If setting the agenda is half the battle, property-rights advocates pushing reform of California's eminent-domain laws can glimpse victory on the horizon.
State Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, this week announced a package of eminent-domain restrictions that would bar state and local governments from condemning owner-occupied homes for use by another private party. The bills also include limited protections for small businesses.
Do they go far enough? Not even close. Still, the anti-eminent-domain initiative Proposition 90 only narrowly failed in November and similar measures are headed to the ballot next year, so even Democrats and environmental activists are paying lip service to property rights.
The north state's Assemblyman, Doug LaMalfa, who avidly pushed Proposition 90, called the latest measure "a disingenuous bill that doesn't really protect much."
The small-business restrictions have enough loopholes to leave owners helpless before the government steamroller, while the package does not protect farms, second homes or investment property.
No, absentee landlords don't make for the same headline-grabbing horror stories as grandmothers forced from their homes, but the principle is the same: The government should not seize private property to resell it for someone else's profit.
The Supreme Court declared that practice constitutional for the "public purpose" of increasing tax revenue in its 2005 Kelo ruling. It would seem easy enough for the Legislature to declare that, whatever the justices say, California would respect its residents' rights.
But cities that are constantly scrambling for more tax revenue like to keep their options open, and they have sympathetic ears in the Legislature. If only humble property owners who just want to be left alone could win a similar audience.
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