Wednesday, August 03, 2005

States move to protect property - Ruling prompts bills on eminent domain 08/03/2005 - Updated 03:10 AM ET

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States move to protect property
Ruling prompts bills on eminent domain

By Emily Bazar

States across the country are rushing to pass laws to counter the potential impact of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that allows state and local governments to seize homes for private development.

In Alabama today, Gov. Bob Riley will sign a law that prohibits the state, cities and counties from taking private property for retail, office, commercial, industrial or residential development. �We don't like anybody messing with our dogs, our guns, our hunting rights or trying to take property from us,� says state Sen. Jack Biddle, a sponsor of the law.

Delaware also has changed its law since the high court ruling on eminent domain. Legislatures in at least eight other states are weighing proposals this year. More may be coming. And Congress is considering action.

�When legislatures start new sessions in January, I expect the majority of states to take up bills that would restrict the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes,� said Larry Morandi, environmental program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The issue has spawned an unusual alliance among conservatives opposed to the principle of government seizing private property and liberals worried that poor people would be the most likely victims.

The actions are a swift response to a Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case. For the first time, it ruled that condemnation of private property solely for economic development was constitutional.

In that case, the justices accepted New London, Conn., officials' plan to raze homes to make way for a hotel, office complexes and a marina.

But the court left the door open for states to limit the use of eminent domain for economic development.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said his office received more calls from constituents angry about this case than it did for the Supreme Court ruling that limited displays of the Ten Commandments on public property. Cornyn is proposing a bill to bar cities and counties from using federal funds for economic development projects that involve seized property.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who rarely supports Republican bills, has signed onto two GOP bills and proposed two of her own. �The people who get hurt are the many poor people and working people who don't think they can fight City Hall,� she said.

Paul Farmer, executive director of the American Planning Association, said eminent domain for private projects can revitalize cities. �It should remain a tool that would clearly not be used very often,� he said.

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