Posts filed under 'Eminent Domain'

Conference Committees are underway

In the final week of session, legislators are focused on the conference committee process. Conference committees are comprised of both House and Senate members that meet to resolve differences in bills that have passed both chambers, but in different versions.

For instance, yesterday the conference committee on HB 1010, the eminent domain bill, met to resolve differences between versions of the legislation that passed the House and the Senate. I am one of four conferees that have been appointed to the committee (there are also seven non-voting “advisor” members). All four Conferees must sign the final conference report before it can be sent back to each chamber for final approval.

Below is a picture taken as the meeting adjourned yesterday afternoon.

eminent domain conference committee

In the case of HB 1010, the meeting went smoothly, and few changes were needed to reach a consensus. The report with the amended bill was circulated to the conferees this morning, and once all four signatures have been collected, the bill will be ready for its final vote.

Conference committees can be very contentious at times, but since both chambers and the Governor’s office are all controlled by the same party this year, there has not been much conflict or need for compromise. This is because the Majority in each chamber appoints the conference committee members. If a minority party conferee refuses to sign a report, they can simply be replaced with a more cooperative participant by the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.

The last day of session is only one week away, so conference committees are busily trying to finish their work. The most interesting conference report will definitely be for HB 1008 - the “Major Moves” legislation. That committee met for the first time yesterday, and has not yet come to any agreement.

5 comments March 8th, 2006

Eminent Domain commitee makes final recommendations

The Interim Study Committee on Eminent Domain has finished its deliberations for the year. On Thursday we met to make final recommendations for legislation to deal with the ramifications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London.

eminentdomain

That case essentially held that while eminent domain should be restricted to public use, states are free to decide what constitutes “public use” - including, potentially, private economic development projects.

Groups such as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns feel that eminent domain is a critical part of their economic development tool box. However, I have felt all along that the property rights - particularly of homeowners - need to be guarded carefully.

As Susette Kelo of the eponymous case says:

If homeowners, small business owners, churches and others are to be safe, state and local lawmakers across the nation should… respect our right to own property rather than cut sweetheart deals with developers who tempt lawmakers with the promise of more taxes and jobs. What we have now at the local, state and federal level amounts to “government by the highest bidder.”

If the government was taking our property for a road or firehouse, I would be prepared to sell without a fight. But the government should not be able to force me to sell my home so someone else can enjoy my view.

With that in mind, my recommendation to the Committee was to prevent any owner-occupied homes from being designated as an “area needing redevelopment” as set forth in IC 36-7-1-3. That section of Indiana Code is the mechanism by which private property can be declared subject to eminent domain for purposes other than “traditional” eminent domain needs - such as roads and bridges.

My argument, unfortunately, did not prevail. However, in the end, we were able to agree on recommendations that should make it very difficult for any homeowners to lose their property to an eminent domain action being used for “economic development” purposes.

Recognizing that there may be circumstances when a City would need to use eminent domain to rehabilitate truly uninhabitable properties, we resolved to tighten the definition of an “area needing redevelopment” to something that is beyond doubt a “condemnation-eligible” property.

This would prevent a normal home or neighborhood from being placed at risk just because someone thinks its location might be a great spot for a new strip mall.

The Committee also resolved to:

  • revamp the “just compensation” criteria for property taken in eminent domain actions,
  • consider limiting eminent domain only to those instances where there is “no reasonable alternative,”
  • address insufficient attorney’s fees for plaintiffs in eminent domain actions, and
  • specify that “economic development” cannot be defined solely by an increase in tax revenue.

  • Representative David Wolkins
    (R-Winona Lake) deserves praise for taking the lead on this issue, as do the rest of the committee members, who all demonstrated bipartisan cooperation and devoted careful thought to this issue.

    There will likely be several bills addressing eminent domain in the upcoming session, but the Committee recommendations will be a valuable guide for the deliberations of the Legislature in the upcoming session.

    Add comment October 28th, 2005

    Bipartisanship in Eminent Domain Reform

    handshakeI have to give a hat-tip to the Heartland Institute. The reliably right-wing policy organization recently gave recognition to Democrats who have been working to end eminent domain abuse.

    Democrats Stepping Up to Protect Private Property

    Democratic lawmakers across the country are demonstrating an often-overlooked commitment to protecting private property rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London.

    …In the Indiana legislature, Democrats have taken the lead in formulating legislation to protect private property rights from government takings.

    State residents “want to make sure you don’t come knocking on their door because someone thinks it’s a good place to throw up a strip mall,” said Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) during August 10 hearings on the topic, as reported the following day by the Indianapolis Star.

    You can read the original Indianapolis Star article here.

    To be perfectly fair, my good friend Representative David Wolkins (R-Winona Lake) has actually taken the biggest lead on eminent domain reform in Indiana. It was his legislation that established the Interim Study Committee on Eminent Domain. Since then, legislators from both sides of the aisle have been working together on this important issue.

    eminent domain cartoon

    Add comment September 30th, 2005

    Eminent Domain Committee Meeting

    Today was the second meeting of the Interim Study Committee on Eminent Domain, which was formed in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling in
    Kelo v. New London
    .

    In that case, the Court essentially held that the use of eminent domain for economic development did not violate the public use clauses of state and federal constitutions. Essentially, if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other city revenues, and revitalizes a depressed urban area, it can constitutionally qualify as a public use.

    However, the Court also allowed states to make their own specific determinations. In other words: while Connecticut may allow local governments to seize homes with eminent domain to develop a shopping complex - Indiana could choose to not allow that.

    During the first Committee meeting, we heard testimony from groups such as the Castle Coalition, which opposes the use of eminent domain, as well as from representatives of local governments who seek to maintain maximum flexibility in local redevelopment efforts. Mishawaka Mayor Jeff Rea made a very good presentation on why cities feel the need to retain eminent domain as a tool in their redevelopment efforts.

    Today’s session was shorter than our first meeting. The bulk of the testimony came from Mr. Kurt Webber, an Indianapolis attorney who represents landowners fighting eminent domain in condemnation actions. The minutes for today’s meeting are not yet online, but they will become available at the main Committee site.

    eminent domain 2nd hearing

    The main point I feel the committee needs to focus on is re-drafting IC 36-7-1-3. This statute sets the criteria designating an “area needing redevelopment.” That designation is what allows for eminent domain to be used in a private development. Currently, the code is very vague, and could be applied to mean almost any location in our community was in need of “redevelopment” through eminent domain.

    Further, I think it is important to give people’s homes more specific protection than other types of property when eminent domain is used.

    The Committee will be making recommendations to the General Assembly for legislative action at the last meeting.

    Feel free to let me know if you have an opinion on this issue.

    September 21st, 2005


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