Minnesota Enacts Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform

Legislation Exempts Some Municipalities for Up to 5 Years

PRESS RELEASE: May 19, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Minneapolis—Today, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to sign into law Senate File 2750, legislation that protects homes, farms and small businesses from eminent domain abuse.  The law explicitly prohibits municipalities from using eminent domain to transfer property from one owner to another for private commercial development.  SF 2750 also requires that so-called “blighted” properties be an actual danger to public health and safety to be condemned for private development.  Non-blighted properties can be condemned only if they are in an area where the majority of properties are “blighted” and there is no feasible alternative to taking them to remediate the blighted properties.

“With this new law, most Minnesotans now have strong protections against the abuse of eminent domain,” said Lee McGrath, executive director of the Minnesota Chapter of the Institute for Justice.  “Before the government can call a property ‘blighted,’ it must prove to a court that the property poses an actual and significant threat to health or safety.  ‘Blight’ in Minnesota is no longer whatever a developer or bureaucrat wants it to be.”

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, state Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and state Rep. Jeff Johnson (R-Plymouth) introduced bipartisan legislative reform in the first week of the legislative session.  Minnesota is one of 47 states since Kelo to introduce, consider or pass legislation aiming to curb the abuse of eminent domain and will be the 21st state to enact reform.

Kelo opened the floodgates to eminent domain abuse nationwide,” said IJ-Minnesota Attorney Nick Dranias.  “Reform is particularly important in Minnesota, because the state Supreme Court has repeatedly allowed the taking of property for private use under the guise of blight removal.  Fortunately, the Legislature passed meaningful reform that significantly reduces the threat of eminent domain abuse.”

SF 2750 exempts more than 2,000 Tax Increment Financing districts, many of which are in the Twin Cities, for up to 5 years.  It also includes one-time exemptions for Richfield and Minneapolis.  

“It’s unfortunate the Legislature included these exemptions in what is otherwise solid legislation,” McGrath added.  “People already living under the threat of eminent domain will remain without protection for several years.  Your zip code shouldn’t dictate whether you have property rights; all Minnesotans deserve the same protection from eminent domain abuse.”

Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform, a large and ideologically diverse coalition, advocated for the eminent domain reform bill.  The coalition included the Institute for Justice, Automobile Dealers Association, Farm Bureau, Petroleum Marketers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Automotive Service Providers, Hmong Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, Urban League, Minnesota Family Council, Farmers Union, Trucking Association, Outdoor Advertising Association, Teamsters, Hospitality Minnesota, Wheat Growers Association, Cattlemen’s Association, St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Manufactured Housing Association and Metro Independent Business Alliance.

Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson, who supported the legislation, said, “Defenders of eminent domain for private development, like the League of Minnesota Cities, present a false choice between protecting people’s rights and economic development.  The legislators who voted for this bill were right to realize that we can and will have both.”