Correct means needed to protect property rights
When the Legislature began the 2006 session in January, they were assumptions there would be measures introduced to protect property rights in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June 2005 that allowed the use of eminent domain for economic development. And indeed, an amendment to the state constitution was introduced only to fail. The House then passed a bill that would have the Legislature review all cases where eminent domain was used for economic development. The Senate hasn't acted as lawmakers return for the wrap-up session this week.
Although the Supreme Court ruling united groups on the left and right in opposition, the hesitation in the Legislature is probably a sign that the issue is more nuanced than that first visceral response would suppose.
The Supreme Court ruling stated any such action would have to serve "a public purpose" and couldn't merely be a vehicle to enrich a private party. One only has to look one county to the north to find such an application of the use of eminent domain with the Kansas Speedway.
Still, the Supreme Court ruling could invite abuses. Just to the east, the De Soto City Council provided just such an example when it voted early this decade for an agreement that could have used eminent domain solely for the benefit of a single private business, in this case Hunt Midwest Mining Inc.
It is the Legislature's task to find language that would prevent that kind of abuse and spare property owners from being targeted by local government in league with developers looking for a big score. In all cases, property compensation could be made to include post-development value, which might give pause to some land grabs.
In addition to being awkward, a simple legislative review doesn't assure fairness or proper use of eminent domain. Surely, better legislation can be offered that protects property rights while preserving the use of eminent domain for legitimate economic development projects.