Ohio Senate votes to limit eminent domain: ThisWeek News, Columbus OH, 6/7/07

By Michael Maurer

The Ohio Senate voted overwhelmingly last week to limit the power of government to take private property under eminent-domain proceedings.

The Senate approved both a constitutional amendment for the fall ballot and a revision to Ohio's current eminent-domain statutes.

Both the resolution and the bill require further action by the Ohio House of Representatives before becoming effective.

Sen. Tim Grendell (R-Chesterland), who last year led a task force that examined the use of eminent domain for economic development, sponsored both a resolution that would put a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot and a bill that would restrict state and local government's ability to take land because of "blight," the legal term for neighborhood deterioration that allows the government to condemn even well-cared-for homes and properties.

"This issue we're talking about today goes to the fundamental right of Ohio citizens, the right to own private property," Grendell said.

Much of the debate centered on whether the amendment should prohibit takings that are "solely" for economic development, or more broadly, takings that are "primarily" for economic development.

Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) argued that "solely" is too narrow a word and would not in practice prevent takings at all.

"With regard to primarily versus solely, it is almost impossible to prove that something is solely the motivation," Stivers said. "If there are secondary or tertiary interests to something, you could say, 'Gee, we did it for all of these reasons, not just this single one.' That's why the word primarily is important to use."

The constitutional amendment also would abrogate home-rule powers of municipalities, prohibiting them from adopting different eminent-domain standards from the laws generally applicable to the state.

Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R-Cuyahoga Falls) said an Ohio Supreme Court decision issued last year, known as "Norwood," appeared to protect Ohioans' property rights against economic development takings, but it may not do so.

"I know for a fact there are law directors in the state of Ohio who advise their mayors that the Norwood decision doesn't change anything about their ability to use Kelo-type takings," Coughlin said.

Among the provisions of S.B. 7:

  • Land taken from one private landowner under eminent-domain proceedings may not be transferred to another private landowner unless the land has been determined to be blighted by an elected legislative authority.
  • Land may not be considered blighted unless 90 percent of parcels in the area are themselves blighted.
  • Landowners could receive attorney fees if the value of the land is found by a court to be at least 25 percent more than the value initially proposed by the taking authority, or if the court determines that the takings were not necessary as a public use.

The constitutional amendment passed 21 to 11, with Sens. David Goodman (R-New Albany), Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Stivers voting yes and Sen. Ray Miller (D-Columbus) dissenting.

S.B. 7 passed 29 to 3, with all four central Ohio senators voting in favor.

ThisWeek News, Columbus OH: http://www.thisweeknews.com