Governor to Sign Important Eminent Domain Reform Today

Bill Provides Personal Notice To Property Owners of Eminent Domain Decisions

CONTACT: John Kramer; Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320
April 17, 2007

Seattle—Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to sign important and much-needed eminent domain reform at 10 a.m. today in a ceremony in the Governor’s Conference Room on the Capitol campus in Olympia.  Substitute House Bill 1458 requires that a condemning authority in Washington provide notice by certified mail at least 15 days prior to the public meeting at which a final decision on condemnation will be made.  SHB 1458 is the result of a joint request by Gov. Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna and was introduced by Rep. Van De Wege with 54 co-sponsors.  It passed both houses of the Washington Legislature by unanimous votes.

The need for the bill arose from Washington Supreme Court decisions holding that state and local governments could provide notice of the public meeting at which a final decision to condemn property would be made by merely posting such notice on an obscure governmental website.  However, this meeting is vitally important to property owners because it is the sole opportunity a property owner has to provide evidence that his or her property is not necessary for the government’s purported public use.

According to William Maurer, the executive director of the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, the strong support for the bill shows that Washington lawmakers understand the need to treat property owners with respect and dignity. 

“This is not a Democratic or Republican issue—it’s a fairness issue,” Maurer said.  “The Governor, the Attorney General and the legislators who moved this important piece of legislation through to passage are to be commended for their commitment to treating Washington’s property owners fairly.” 

Providing personal notice of the decision to condemn was one of several suggestions for reforming Washington’s eminent domain law Maurer made in A False Sense of Security: The Potential for Eminent Domain Abuse in Washington State, a policy brief published by the Washington Policy Center.  The Institute for Justice represented Susette Kelo and other homeowners in the infamous Kelo v. New London decision before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is an important bill and one in which the leaders of this state should feel justifiably proud,” Maurer continued.  “It is a good first step toward the reform of other Washington laws that permit the government to abuse eminent domain.  The Governor and the Attorney General have pointed the way for political leaders to work together to ensure that all Washingtonians are protected from eminent domain abuse.”

Reform of eminent domain laws is expected to be on the agenda for next year’s Legislature as well.  At the press conference announcing the release of A False Sense of Security, Attorney General McKenna announced that he would create a task force to thoroughly review Washington’s eminent domain laws and recommend any necessary changes to the 2008 legislature.