With the signatures of their governors, Indiana, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Kentucky will become the latest states to enact laws addressing the abuse of eminent domain. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London last summer, lawmakers throughout the nation have heeded the call to do what the nation’s highest court failed to do—protect the rights of property owners from eminent domain for private gain.
Indiana House Bill 1010 sailed through both legislative houses with overwhelming support. It provides common sense reform, redefining public use and providing objective criteria for the acquisition of property in other situations. Gov. Mitch Daniels (Rep.) is expected to sign the bill into law this week.
West Virginia House Bill 4048, which prohibits the use of eminent domain if it is primarily for economic development but provides an exception for “blight.” There appears to be some heightened scrutiny for non-blighted properties within a so-called blighted area. H.B. 4048 passed the House and Senate on the last day of West Virginia’s 2006 legislative session and has landed on the desk of Gov. Joe Manchin III (Dem.).
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 657 “prohibits the condemnation of property that is not blighted” in situations where the land will be conveyed or leased to a private entity, but it also contains an exception for blight removal, though it does provide additional protection for residential property. It passed the Senate in January and the Assembly on March 9 and now awaits Gov. Jim Doyle’s (Dem.) signature.
And Kentucky passed House Bill 508 this week that redefines public use, but contains a glaring and broad exception for the acquisition of blighted and slum areas. Gov. Ernie Fletcher (Rep.) has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law.
Since Kelo, Legislatures in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to limit the government’s eminent domain powers in instances of private use. Indiana, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Kentucky will join a number of states, including Alabama, Michigan, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Utah, that have addressed in some way the issue of eminent domain abuse. This is no doubt the beginning of the legislative reform that the nation is likely to see, as legislation in more than 25 other states remains active.
To find out more information about these bills, or to read the text of the proposed legislation, check out the Castle Coalition’s comprehensive legislative center.