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Senate passes eminent domain amendment

May 02, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1944

JEFFERSON CITY - In a bill stacked with a long list of alterations, the choice of a single word was critical in determining the strength of a bill to change eminent domain regulations.

"Is it solely economic development that we are repugnant to as a state?" asked Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau. "Or is it predominantly economic development purposes that we're repugnant to? Or is it one scintilla of economic development purposes?"

In the end, despite boisterous objections from those who felt banning the use of eminent domain 'solely' for economic purposes would not go far enough in curbing excesses, the Missouri Senate agreed to an amendment Tuesday to place that language into the broader eminent domain bill.

MU law professor Dale Whitman said stripping remnants of "predominantly" out of the legislation spared the from containing "terribly bad language."

"Solely is a workable test that the court can apply consistently," Whitman said.

Whitman criticized the insertion of the 'predominantly' last week, charging that it would spark litigation and judicial confusion. But proponents of tighter safeguards to the use of eminent domain charged 'solely' would not be enough to stop developers from abusing eminent domain.

Crowell, who chaired a Senate committee that inserted "predominantly" into the bill last week, called the terminology "worthless" on the Senate floor. Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, echoed Crowell's sentiments, and said placing 'solely' into the bill was "dancing around the issue."

"As long as we're not defining blight and saying 'you can't do this solely,' then, you know, you leave huge openings for just a little bit of blight," Bray said. "And blight can mean anything."

Besides the restrictions for economic development purposes, the bill states that any condemning authority that seizes a dwelling must pay 125 percent of fair market value to the owner of the property.

The legislation also leaves in the "heritage value" measure, which would give a property owners more money if the home or business they've owned has remained in the hands of a single family for over 50 years.

While Whitman said he disapproves of the heritage value provision of the legislation, he said giving property owners 125 percent of the fair market value for their property takes into account expenses of moving, such as a change in a school district or a longer commute.

"It is a reasonable way to compensate [property owners] for intangiable loses," Whitman said.

The Senate will vote on the bill later this week.