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Eminent Domain Rally Draws Large Crowd to Capital

January 25, 2006
By: David Castillo III
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Holding placards and loudly chanting "no compromise", about opponents of eminent domain packed the state Capitol to rally support for reform of a power they say is being abused.

"The power of eminent domain should be an option of last resort," said Columbia Congressman Kenny Hulshof.

Joining Hulshof in speaking to the group was Gov. Matt Blunt.

"Kelo was a terrible U.S. Supreme Court decision," Blunt said of the U.S. case that upheld the right to condemn land for private, economic development. "The idea that the government can seize property is repugnant."

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision last February, effectively giving governments the right to seize and condemn private property for commercial uses like shopping centers and other development projects.

"People in urban areas are every bit as concerned as those of us who live in rural areas," said Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse.

While the event was sponsored by the Farm Bureau, there was a large constituency of urban residents angry about losing their homes.

"That's my home," said JoAnn Bailey of St. Louis suburb Richmond Heights. "We don't want to move, we prefer staying in our home."

Bailey has lived in her home for 42 years but will be forced to leave when the Richmond Heights city council decides on one of three private developers. Plans for the 250 acres on which Bailey's home sits include condominiums, single family homes and town homes, she said.

"Richmond Heights is one of the richest areas in Missouri and is not in need of funds," Bailey said.

Hulshof, who brought along a copy of the U.S. Constitution, made it clear that he thinks the government should not impose its power if it is not for public benefit.

"The bright line where eminent domain stops is the fence line," Hulshof said.

Kruse said the problem lies with governments seizing property for commercial use rather than public benefit.

"If you're going to use eminent domain, it has to be used for the purpose for which it was condemned," said Kruse. "If after 10 years it has not been used, the property should be returned."

A number of measures have been filed in the legislature to restrict or completely prohibit condemnation for private purposes.

A complete ban, however, has run into opposition from some legislators who argue that communities need condemnation power for private development to restore blighted areas.

In an interview after the rally, Blunt said he supported condemnation only for public uses.