Further Reform Needed to Close Loopholes
PRESS RELEASE: July 6, 2006
Arlington, Va.—Yesterday, Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski signed into law House Bill 318, legislation aimed at providing increased protection against eminent domain abuse. The bill, which sailed through both legislative houses with unanimous support, prohibits the use of eminent domain “to acquire private property from a private person for the purpose of transferring title to the property to another private person for economic development purposes.” Passed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, HB 318 includes an exemption allowing the government to condemn private property for private use if the state legislature approves the taking. It also includes a gaping exception allowing the government to take so-called “blighted” properties.
“We commend Alaska lawmakers for acknowledging the need for reform and giving citizens some increased protection against eminent domain abuse,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who represents the plaintiffs in Kelo. “But Alaska’s vague and sweeping blight statutes leave perfectly fine properties at risk of being condemned for private use. The legislature needs to close the blight loophole so that blight no longer means whatever a developer or bureaucrat says it is.”
Under Alaska’s current blight statute, an entire neighborhood can be designated as “blighted” if some of the properties in the area in which it is located meet one of several factors, including “inadequate street layout,” “faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility, or usefulness,” “improper subdivision or obsolete platting” or if the area “constitutes an economic or social liability” and “is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare in its condition and use.”
“This definition of ‘blight’ can apply to any home, business, farm or place of worship that the government wants to take and give to a private developer,” added Berliner.
Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney for the Castle Coalition, the Institute’s grassroots advocacy project, added, “HB 318 also prohibits eminent domain if the ‘purpose’ is economic development. Unfortunately, states often use this language as a backdoor way of condemning private property for private profit simply by saying the taking is for any another purpose such as blight removal.”
“By passing this bill, legislators have already correctly acknowledged that economic development can and will happen without eminent domain,” said Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson. “Now it’s just an issue of finishing the job by closing the blight loophole and removing their own authority to abuse eminent domain. The legislature has already acknowledged that it is wrong for local governments to authorize takings for private use. It is also wrong for the state government to authorize such abusive land-grabs.”
In Kelo, the nation’s highest court permitted the use of eminent domain for economic development. Since the decision, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation limiting the government’s eminent domain powers in instances of private use. Alaska is the 26th state to enact reform.
Berliner concluded, “Let’s hope the legislature closes these remaining loopholes. Only then will Alaskans be safe from the government’s wrecking ball.”