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Farmland to be Protected from Eminent Domain

November 03, 2005
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -Protection of farmland against private developers seemed to be a consensus Thursday among members of The Task Force on Eminent Domain, but members disagreed on whether the state should redefine blighted property.

Eminent domain allows the government to seize private property without the consent of owners as long as the property will be used for public purpose and the owner is justly compensated.

The definition of blight was an issue of contention among task force members during Thursday's meeting. While some members said the definition should change, others disagreed.

"I quite frankly think over several decades of Missouri that blight definition has been readily defined," said Chris Goodson, commission member and St. Louis developer.

In August, Stephen Anderson, a Washington D.C. lawyer representing land owners, told the panel Missouri's loose definition of blight makes the state one of the worst abusers of eminent domain laws in the nation.

Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, and member of the task force, said he would like the state to narrow its definition of blight.

"It's so incredibly vague and the fact that the courts defer completely to the local legislative body, city council or country council or whatever it might be that [the definition] is useless."

Gross said the legislature will address the definition of blight, regardless of the commission's recommendations to Gov. Blunt on Dec. 31.

"There is no doubt that it will be debated in the legislature so if this task force wants to have an input now's their time," Gross said.

Goodson said the problem with blight isn't the definition, but how municipalities interpret its meaning.

"I would say that sometimes that application has not been applied correctly and maybe some of the new shopping malls that have come up and determining areas to be blight there, that might not be the right application of it."

Gov. Blunt created the task force in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London that reaffirmed the use of eminent domain for private development. The committee is appointed to study the use of eminent domain in the state and make recommendations for future legislation. The task force is looking at eminent domain laws in states like Illinois, to serve as guidelines for any recommendations. The task force's final recommendations to the governor are due by the end of the year.