House panel revises eminent domain bill: Cleveland OH Plain Dealer, 6/26/07

Settles on 70% blight, caps money

By Reginald Fields

Neighborhoods where at least seven of every 10 properties are dilapidated, unsanitary or unsafe could be stamped "blighted" areas ripe for the taking by local governments under a revised bill passed Monday by an Ohio House committee.

Senate Bill 7, a measure aimed at setting guidelines for when municipalities can exercise their eminent domain powers, cleared a split House Judiciary Committee and could be considered by the full House this week.

The full House this month already unanimously passed House Bill 5, a measure preferred by city groups and similarly intended to regulate eminent domain but with some key differences from SB 7.

For example, HB 5 says just 50 percent of the properties need to be blighted before an area is deemed appropriate for takeover.

The two bills appear headed for a conference committee, where lawmakers will negotiate the measures into one bill.

But the House has yet to decide whether it will address the bill's controversial companion piece, a Senate resolution pushing a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide in November whether the bill - should it become law - trumps the "home rule" provision of the Ohio Constitution.

Home rule allows cities with charters to overrule some state statutes.

The resolution, which needs three-fifths approval from each chamber to make it onto the ballot, passed the Senate earlier this month, 21-11, largely along party lines, with Republicans and one Democrat supporting it. It would need 60 votes in the House, where Republicans hold a 53-46 majority over Democrats.

Time is becoming a factor in the resolution's consideration.

The measure would have to clear the General Assembly by early August to make it onto the November ballot. But it hasn't been discussed much publicly in the lower chamber. And legislators are nearing a summer vacation from which they are not likely to return until September.

SB 7, sponsored by Sen. Tim Grendell, a Chester Township Republican, offers specific rules for what can or cannot be considered blight. The version passed by the Senate differs from that passed by the House, and it differs from HB 5.

The Senate version required that 90 percent of the properties in a given area be blighted before the area can be taken by eminent domain. The House changed SB 7 to 70 percent Monday.

The House committee also capped "goodwill" compensation for businesses entirely displaced by an eminent domain project; the amount was uncapped in the Senate's version.

Other changes in the House version of the Senate bill: an agency wanting blighted land would have to produce one publicly financed study documenting the need for the land, and agricultural property that is not in itself blighted can be included in a designated blighted area.

Cleveland OH Plain Dealer: http://www.cleveland.com