Missouri Needs Eminent Domain Reform, Not Expansion
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: John Kramer; Lisa Knepper
July 6, 2007
Arlington, Va.—On Friday, July 6, 2007, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt vetoed HB 327, a one-hundred-forty-plus-page catalog of economic development programs that contains tax credits, training programs, alternative fuels incentives, ticket scalping laws, and a provision creating new eminent domain authority.
“It was disappointing when the General Assembly failed to improve on last year’s eminent domain reform, but the fact that they instead created new eminent domain authority is outrageous,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney for the Institute for Justice’s Castle Coalition, a national grassroots advocacy group committed to ending the private-to-private transfer of property using eminent domain. “HB 327 would have been a step in the wrong direction. We are pleased that the Governor had the courage to veto this bill.”
Last year’s HB 1944 was supposed to tackle Missouri’s rampant eminent domain abuse, brought to the general public’s attention two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo v. City of New London decision. Unfortunately, HB 1944 only protects farms from the state’s vague definition of “blight,” which allows municipalities to condemn virtually any neighborhood, then turn around and hand the property over to private developers. Just last month, the Missouri Supreme Court handed down a bittersweet victory for property owners by throwing out a bogus blight condemnation on a technicality. The court pointed out that even an office building in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the state could qualify as blight under the law’s broad definition and remarked on the General Assembly’s rejection of attempts to narrow that definition.
Instead, the legislature passed HB 327, with a provision that allows every city and county to create its own Regional Railroad Authority and new power to condemn property it determines “useful or convenient for railroad operations….” For over a century, railroads and highways have shared limited eminent domain authority. HB 327 significantly expands that power and places it in the hands of a lot more people.
“It is disheartening that, instead of restricting Missouri’s epidemic eminent domain abuse, the legislature is expanding authority,” Zeigler said. “And in an economic development bill, no less. The Show-Me State desperately needs stronger property rights protections, not HB 327’s new condemnors.”
Of the 41 states that have passed legislation responding to the Kelo decision, Missouri’s reform is one of the weakest. For a review of the states and the effectiveness of their reforms, see the Institute for Justice’s 50-state report card, available at http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=113.