Ohio eminent domain law might change: Newark OH Advocate, 7/19/07

By Howard J. Siegrist

In the aftermath of controversial eminent domain cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ohio Supreme Court, the Ohio legislature now faces two bills aimed at the heart of the eminent domain controversy.

Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 5 propose greater limitations on the government's right to take private property for public uses. The legislation addresses situations where eminent domain would be used on "blighted" properties and for economic development purposes.

The two bills result not only from the recent court cases but also from a statewide task force formed in 2006. The Ohio legislature appointed the task force after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Kelo case, ruling taking of private property for economic redevelopment in Connecticut was not unconstitutional because the state's statute permitted the taking as a valid "public use."

The Ohio task force issued a report in late 2006 that included recommendations for ensuring that Ohio's statute did not permit similar types of takings as the Connecticut case.

Just after the task force report, the Ohio Supreme Court made its ruling in City of Norwood v. Horney, a case that challenged an eminent domain proceeding in a blighted area near Cincinnati. The deteriorating area was to be transferred and redeveloped by a private developer. Ohio's highest court, however, ruled that unlike Connecticut, Ohio law did not authorize the use of eminent domain for such a purpose.

The bills in front of the Ohio legislature would incorporate the Norwood case and some of the task force's recommendations into Ohio's eminent domain statute, Chapter 163 of the Ohio Revised Code. While the two bills differ, several key provisions are similar. A few of these would change our eminent domain law to include:
  • A requirement that any use of eminent domain be necessary and for a public use.
  • Clarification of the "public uses" for which eminent domain may and may not be used. Both bills set restrictions on public uses that are for economic development, increasing public revenue, or conveying land to a private commercial enterprise.
  • A uniform definition of "blight" that includes specific criteria for determining whether a property or an area is "blighted" for purposes of eminent domain.
  • An exemption for agricultural land that prevents such land from being declared blighted absent any showing of environmental or public health hazards.

Both proposals include other revisions to the eminent domain statute. The bills are progressing through the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives.

To read the bills, an analysis of their provisions and their status in the legislature, visit the Ohio Legislature's Web site at www.legislature.state.oh.us and search on S.B. 7 and H.B. 5.

If the bills pass, look for a full analysis of the new legislation.

Newark OH Advocate: http://www.newarkadvocate.com

Howard J. Siegrist is an extension educator at Ohio State University Extension. He can be reached at (740) 670-5315.