Special Interests Win, Property Owners Lose With Delaware Governor

Legislature Fails to Override

WEB RELEASE: June 28, 2008
John E. Kramer
(703) 682-9320, ext 205

Arlington, Va.—On Saturday, June 28, Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner vetoed S.B. 245, historic eminent domain reform that would have protected all homes, small businesses, farms and houses of worship from eminent domain abuse.  The legislature, which had only one day remaining in its 2008 session, failed to override her veto last night with an 11-9 vote (one abstention) in the Senate.  S.B. 245 originally passed the Senate 19-1 and the House unanimously.

True to its nickname, Delaware was the first state to reform its laws in response to the Kelo case, but unfortunately, that 2005 legislation provided only modest reform, allowing eminent domain abuse to continue.  S.B. 245 would have followed up on that early victory by restricting eminent domain to its traditional uses—roads, schools, parks and police stations—while still allowing local governments the ability to acquire properties that pose a threat to public health and safety.  All told, 42 states have passed legislation that better protects private property from government-enforced private development land grabs.  Such abuses disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us:  minorities, the less educated and the poor.

“When special interests win, the people lose,” said Steven Anderson, director of IJ’s Castle Coalition and a frequent presence in Dover during the debate over S.B. 245.  “It is sad that months of hard work by ordinary home and small business owners and principled legislators resulted in a weekend veto by a lame duck governor.  It’s a victory for big business and big labor, but certainly not for the ordinary homeowner and small businesses.”

Delaware small business owners know firsthand that eminent domain abuse remains a problem.  Ed Osborne spent years working tirelessly to build Osborne’s Auto Repair into a successful business along Wilmington’s Christina River waterfront.  But instead of allowing Ed and other South Walnut Street businesses to reap the rewards of their investment, the City of Wilmington is threatening to seize their land and hand it over to a private developer who promises more jobs and tax revenue in the form of luxury condominiums and fancier stores.  All told, Delaware officials have authorized the use of eminent domain against 62 properties and 38 businesses for private gain.

Minner is one of only a handful of governors to veto eminent domain reform in the three years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London.  In all but one of the previous cases, reform has been enacted in the end:  In Iowa, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto in a special session; Arizona citizens passed Proposition 207 following their governor’s veto; and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed a comprehensive reform bill during that state’s next legislative session.  Texas is scheduled to consider eminent domain reform again in 2009.

“We’re confident Delaware will ultimately get it right,” Anderson continued.  “There’s no question that Delaware needs reform.  Where abuses occur, the passion of the people is inflamed, which results in legislative change.  The issue isn’t going away—and neither are we.”