Pass the em­i­nent do­main bill

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

In the few weeks left of the 109th Congress, the lame-duck Se­nate should pass Sen. James In­hofe’s em­i­nent-do­main bill. A broad coali­tion of lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives passed the House com­pan­ion bill a full year ago by an over­whelm­ing 376-38 mar­gin, but the Se­nate bill has been stuck in Sen. Arlen Specter’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ever since. It’s time to move.

This bill with­holds fed­eral eco­nomicde­vel­op­ment money for two years from states and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties which seize un­blighted private prop­erty, as oc­curred in the Kelo vs. New Lon­don case, for de­vel­op­ers to build con­dos, shop­ping malls or other projects out­side tra­di­tional em­i­nent­do­main bounds (high­ways and rails, for in­stance). This sends the right mes­sage: If you take grandma’s house to build a tonier neigh­bor­hood in ser­vice of boost­ing city cof­fers — as New Lon­don did — the Amer­i­can tax­payer does not ap­prove. We will not fi­nance your ac­tions.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is not ob­li­gated to sub­si­dize prop­erty tak­ings, which the great ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans con­sider to be egre­gious vi­o­la­tions of peo­ple’s ev­ery- day prop­erty rights. The Se­nate should re­spect the peo­ple’s will.

A na­tional back­lash against such tak­ings is un­der­way, with good rea­son. It has man­i­fested it­self most re­cently in the pas- sage of nine state bal­lot ini­tia­tives to limit gov­ern­ment em­i­nent-do­main pow­ers. Vot­ers in Ari­zona, Ge­or­gia, Florida, Michi­gan, Ne­vada, New Hamp­shire, North Dakota, Ore­gon and South Carolina all passed re­stric­tions on their Nov. 7 bal­lots. Three states that re­jected lim­its — Cal­i­for­nia, Idaho and Wash­ing­ton — might also have passed them if the re­stric­tions were not so over­reach­ing. The mea­sures re­quired com­pen­sa­tion for land-use and zon­ing reg­u­la­tions’ ef­fects on prop­er­ty­hold­ers’ in­come, which un­doubt­edly would have been abuse-prone — not to men­tion costly for most state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Un­der­gird­ing this is sheer voter re­vul­sion at the im­age of gov­ern­ment seiz­ing a mod­est but un­blighted home like Susette Kelo’s, the home she grew up in, to make way for con­dos and shop­ping — all un­der the guise of “eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.” Quite rea­son­ably, vot­ers don’t want the same thing to hap­pen to their hard-earned in­vest­ments. Who can blame them?

Pass­ing Mr. In­hofe’s bill would do right by tax­pay­ers and prop­erty own­ers. We see no rea­son why the fed­eral gov­ern­ment must help land-grab­bing state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments in the sor­did busi­ness of seiz­ing peo­ple’s homes sim­ply be­cause those gov­ern­ments pre­fer a tonier clien­tele.

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