Last year, Florida went on record in support of private property rights protection, passing one of the most comprehensive eminent domain reforms in the country. As a result, eminent domain cannot be used by community redevelopment agencies to take property from one private owner and give it to another in the instance of "slum" or "blight." A constitutional amendment also passed prohibiting the use of eminent domain to accomplish any private-to-private transfer of ownership and control unless approved by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature.
Now, just one year later, the Legislature is on the verge of giving money to government to do what it said last year should not be done. The question is: Will our legislators stick to their guns on private property rights?
Senate Bill 432 is a proposed appropriation bill that on its face seeks to fund seaport projects that improve moving goods and people to enhance global trade at Florida's 14 deepwater ports. These monies will come from the redirection of $10 million annually from vehicle registration fees or revenues outside of those generated by the ports themselves. The problem is that, unless modified, the legislation would enable seaports to use funds in eminent domain for private-to-private land takings, and we know at least one would.
The Jacksonville Port Authority is in fact currently pursuing a condemnation lawsuit to take approximately 65 waterfront acres from Keystone Coal Company, just to lease it to a competitor, Drummond Coal Sales, Inc. Jaxport, like many public port authorities, is a "passive landlord port," meaning it does not operate facilities leased to others. Of further note, Jaxport's revenues are not put back into the general revenue funds of the community, but instead are used to fund further port expansion as part of "economic development." Is this an example of how state funds should be used? Is "economic development" really accomplished by government choosing one private entity over another who through private ownership sought to do the same thing?
Daytona Beach FL News-Journal: http://www.news-journalonline.com
Andrew Brigham is a partner at Brigham Moore LLP, a law firm in Florida that represents owners in property rights and eminent domain cases: http://www.eminentdomain.com