Florida Enacts Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform, Bill One of Strongest Passed Nationwide

PRESS RELEASE: May 12, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Florida Governor Jeb Bush yesterday signed into law House Bill 1567, which provides home and business owners across the state with meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse.  The bill, which passed the legislature with overwhelming support, prohibits localities from transferring land from one owner to another through the use of eminent domain for 10 years—effectively eliminating condemnations for private commercial development.  HB 1567 also forbids the use of eminent domain to eliminate so-called “blight,” instead requiring municipalities to use their police powers to address properties that actually pose a danger to public health or safety.

“With this bill, Florida lawmakers provide meaningful and comprehensive protection for their constituents from eminent domain abuse,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.  “Florida now offers some of the best protection in the nation for homes, businesses and churches that could have been threatened by eminent domain for private development.  This bill is a model for what other state legislatures should enact.  It prohibits eminent domain abuse while still allowing the government to condemn property for public uses just as the Constitution allows.”

IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed and added, “Florida legislators understand what defenders of eminent domain abuse still do not—that Kelo created a big problem for the states to fix, that economic development will undoubtedly continue without eminent domain, and that every home, business, farm and place of worship needed protection against condemnation for private gain.  This is one of the strongest reform bills passed in response to Kelo.  Let’s hope other states follow in Florida’s footsteps.”

In Kelo, the nation’s highest court permitted the use of eminent domain for economic development.  A Florida court was the first to rely on Kelo in upholding a municipality’s plan to take land from one person and give it to another private party.  Since the Supreme Court’s June 2005 decision, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation limiting the government’s eminent domain powers in instances of private use. 

“For years, Florida municipalities and redevelopment agencies have aggressively threatened and used eminent domain to acquire prime waterfront real estate for private development,” said Castle Coalition Coordinator Steven Anderson.  “Development will no doubt continue in Florida’s hot real estate market.  Only now, developers must purchase land from willing sellers the old-fashioned way—through private negotiation, not government force.”

Florida homeowner and Castle Coalition member Princess Wells, who has resisted Riviera Beach’s attempt to condemn her home and as many as 2,200 other homes for a proposed 400-acre project that includes luxury residences and a yacht complex, said, “I am just so thankful to be able to keep my home and my business.  People now have a choice as we should have.  This is the way America is supposed to be.” 

“It’s fortunate that the Governor signed the bill so quickly,” added Berliner. “Riviera Beach tried to rush its plans to condemn for private development earlier this week, and other municipalities may have tried to do the same thing.  Riviera Beach’s actions clearly illustrate why this reform was so desperately needed in Florida.”

The Florida House and Senate also put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.  If passed by voters, the amendment would require a three-fifths majority in both legislative houses to grant exceptions to a state constitutional prohibition on eminent domain for private use.  It would take effect January 2, 2007.