Governor signs bill limiting eminent domain authority: Billings MT Gazette, 5/17/07

Associated Press

Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed a bill Thursday that aims to limit the eminent domain power of government in Montana.

The measure, a bipartisan effort, clarifies that local governments can't condemn a piece of property and turn it over to another private property owner just because the new use might generate more tax money.

The issue is at the heart of a debate following the U.S. Supreme Court's so-called "Kelo" decision, named after a Connecticut woman who fought to keep her home from city plans to turn it over to private developers.

"The government ought not pick winners and losers," Schweitzer said after signing the bill. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena. A Republican who supported the measure, which nearly unanimously cleared the Legislature, was also at the bill signing.

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, said most everyone agreed that the Montana Constitution and state legal precedent would likely have prohibited government seizures like the one seen in the Connecticut case.

But he said the new law makes it "absolutely clear" that eminent domain power can only be used for public projects, such as highways.

"Rest assured, the issue is settled in Montana," Lewis said.

Supporters felt the clarification was also necessary because public fear of the "Kelo" case was used to advance an initiative last year which they felt went too far by "gutting" local planning authority.

Lewis said he didn't want voters to be misled by the issue again.

Billings MT Gazette: http://www.billingsgazette.net