Editorial: Eminent domain legislation will be necessary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 8, 2006

There may not be a lot of agreement in St. Paul when the next session begins, particularly in this election year. Still, lawmakers of both parties seem to be thinking alike on one important issue: the use of eminent domain.

Legislators are beginning to draft legislation and schedule hearings to deal with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opens the way for local governments to take land from private owners and transfer it to private developers.

The court ruled, in a case from another state, that a city government was within its rights to condemn land from some homeowners, then transfer the land to developers who built expensive condominiums on the site.

That is not what most Minnesotans, or Americans, believe is the proper use of government’s power to seize land. The condemnation laws have typically been used to require private landowners to sell their land to the government to make way for public projects such as new highways.

Taking private land just to get new private development is, as one state lawmaker pointed out, like a reverse Robin Hood &045; taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

Some of the proposals being considered at the state Capitol include laws that would bar cities or counties from transferring land among private owners for redevelopment unless the land can be clearly and specifically identified as &8220;blighted.&8221; Another proposal is to make local governments pay attorney fees of affected property owners if their eminent domain decision is overturned.

They’re both good ideas. What will need the most attention is defining what &8220;blighted&8221; will mean. Simply having lower-cost houses in an area shouldn’t be twisted into being labeled a blighted area by a local government seeking classier development.

Already, some Democrats and Republicans who will be in tight races in the fall are trying to gain attention for proposed legislation that would rewrite the property seizure laws. That’s fine, both parties will deserve credit if they get good legislation passed.

&045; The Free Press (Mankato)