Fearing potential abuse by local officials who want to turn run-down properties into more lucrative developments, the Ohio Senate today passed a pair of proposals that would limit governments' ability to take land through eminent domain.
The measures include a constitutional amendment that, if it passes the House and is approved by Ohio voters in November, would require all cities to adhere to new state private-property laws, regardless of local regulations.
“Today is our opportunity to tell all Ohioans that we think their property rights are revered, fundamental and entitled to protection from the improper use of government eminent-domain powers,” said Rep. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chesterland, sponsor of the bill.
“Unfortunately in recent years, some governmental entities … have used eminent domain as a tool of convenience, not a tool of last resort.”
The measures come in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case known as the Kelo decision, where the court ruled that cities could take private property and give it to developers for economic development.
In Ohio, however, the state Supreme Court ruled last July that local governments can't seize private property solely for economic development.
But court decisions can change, said Sen. Kevin J. Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls. “I think the people of Ohio deserve a more permanent solution to this.”
The House is expected to vote next week on its own eminent-domain proposal, which differs from the Senate-passed version in a handful of ways, including how many properties within a targeted area must be considered blighted before government can take the land. It's 90 percent in the Senate bill, 50 percent in the House version.
While the Senate bill passed overwhelmingly, all but one Democrat opposed the proposed constitutional amendment, arguing it would strip away cities' home-rule rights. They also don't like that it prohibits the taking of private property “primarily” to generate more government revenue. Democrats wanted the wording to read “solely.”
“ Primarily, frankly, does not go far enough,” said Sen. Capri S. Cafaro, D-Hubbard. “Does that mean secondary, or as a residual result it's OK? It will eventually lead to broad interpretation and litigation for years to come.”
Some highlights of Senate Bill 7, which now moves to the House:
- Prohibits the use of eminent domain in nonblighted areas for private economic development.
- Defines blight as property that is unsafe, unsanitary or a health threat. Absent that, a blighted property must meet at least two of eight other criteria, including a public nuisance, fire hazard, disconnected utilities, vacant or delinquent on taxes.
- Requires elected officials to give final approval to any eminent-domain action. This includes Gov. Ted Strickland approving projects for state parks or highways.
- Mandates early notice and public input before eminent-domain proceedings begin.
- Shifts the burden to the government to prove the public purpose for taking private land.
Columbus OH Dispatch: http://www.columbusdispatch.com