Legislature Still Needs to Close “Blight” Loophole
PRESS RELEASE: July 13, 2006
Arlington, Va.—Today, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt signed into law House Bill 1944, legislation that requires a government agency to condemn private property for use by a private party. Under the new law, private developers are no longer allowed to condemn property. Localities can continue to use eminent domain to take homes, businesses and houses of worship in so-called “blighted” areas if a property-by-property analysis concludes that more than half of all properties in a redevelopment area meet the definition of “blighted.” The bill further prohibits the designation of farmland as blighted.
“Missouri is one of the worst abusers of eminent domain in the nation, so this is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done to protect people from the government’s wrecking ball,” said Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson. “Even with this bill, the state’s blight laws still contain such broad, sweeping language that leave perfectly fine homes and businesses at risk of being condemned. Citizens will only have meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse when blight can only be used to describe property that is an actual danger to public health or safety.”
IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner agreed and added, “We commend the Missouri Legislature for recognizing the need for reform and protecting farms from eminent domain abuse. While the new law provides some well-deserved safeguards, it’s important that lawmakers give homes, businesses and houses of worship—the biggest targets of eminent domain abuse—the same protection they gave farms. The government shouldn’t be able to take your home and give it to somebody else. That’s just wrong. Period.”
Eminent domain abuse in Missouri is widespread. Redevelopment agencies throughout the state have used bogus blight designations to acquire private property for private development. From 1998 to 2002, the Institute for Justice documented more than 10,000 abuses of eminent domain nationwide including 455 in Missouri. Since last year’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, where the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for eminent domain abuse, municipalities across the state have continued with condemnations for private use.
“The good part of HB 1944 is that it increases the burden to take private property by eminent domain,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court. “The problem is that if blight can mean anything at all, and that’s unambiguously the case in Missouri, people who live in more urban areas of the state, like St. Louis and Kansas City, are not much more protected today than they were before this new legislation.”
Since Kelo, legislators in 47 states and the U.S. Congress have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to curb the abuse of eminent domain. Missouri is the 27th state to enact reform.
Anderson concluded, “We’re optimistic that the Missouri Legislature will get back to work on this important issue. They just need to finish the task by closing the remaining loopholes.”