- Failed to pass legislative reform.
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In response to Kelo, the Oklahoma Legislature formed several study committees preceding the 2006 session.
Then, in May 2006, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision that permitted eminent domain for private development, ruling instead in Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee County v. Lowery that economic development is not a constitutional reason to use eminent domain under the Oklahoma Constitution. The Court originally heard the case in 2004, before the Kelo decision. In Lowery, Muskogee County sought to take an easement for water pipelines for a private electric generation plant. The stated purpose of the condemnation was “economic development.” Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court had explicitly reminded states that they did not have to follow the Kelo decision in interpreting their own constitutions, the Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded that “our state constitutional eminent domain provisions place more stringent limitation on governmental eminent domain power than the limitations imposed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
However, the Court said that its decision does not apply to condemnations for “blight.” Unfortunately, the definition of “blight” under Oklahoma law is so broad that virtually any neighborhood would qualify. That means cities could switch to condemnations under the Neighborhood Redevelopment and Oklahoma Housing Authorities Acts.
Last year the legislature proposed an excellent constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1057 (2006), that would have stopped this from happening. The bill made it all the way to conference committee only to die in the last days of session due to the confusion over the protections Lowery actually offers. The legislature failed to pass needed reform again this session. In fact, the only momentum was for another study committee. Until reform is passed, Oklahomans will still be vulnerable to eminent domain abuse.