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Eminent domain bill passes House

April 13, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB1944

JEFFERSON CITY - While the Missouri House overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday to overhaul the state's eminent domain regulations, several Boone County legislators say the bill does not go far enough to halt abuses.

The legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, was approved 154-4, with all five lawmakers who represent Boone County voting for the measure. But even Hobbs acknowledged some would have liked to see stronger legislation.

"When you serve in a legislature, it's about striking a balance, and I think we've struck that balance," Hobbs said. "Are there things that I would have liked to see stronger? Yes. But at the end of the day, I think we did some pretty good work here."

On Wednesday, the House considered and rejected a number of amendments, including one which bans a condemning authority from using eminent domain for "primarily economic purposes." Instead, the bill passed Thursday bans the use of eminent domain for "solely economic purposes."

Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said the House missed an opportunity to make the bill stronger when it struck down those amendments.

"There was a real cry to address this issue," Shoemyer said.

While Shoemyer said there are some good things in the bill, such as increased notification and the ban on deeming farmland blighted, he said the bill is only a start, rather than a solution.

He chalked the outcome up to "very strong constituencies at home and very strong lobbying entities at the Capitol."

"Frankly, most of the votes come out of the cities and urban areas," Shoemyer said. "There was compromise that had to be reached."

But Hobbs said putting the "primarily" language into the bill would have opened up the door for a flurry of lawsuits.

"Even though I wanted to find a way to put 'primarily' in there, I finally decided that there was no way I would craft something strong enough in the time we had," Hobbs said. "We went with solely, tightened up the language around it, and I feel very comfortable with it now."

The House also struck down an amendment that would have redefined the standards around the term "blighted," which is used by condemning authorities to seize property.

The term is used to identify vacant or deteriorating properties that could be seized and redeveloped. Proponents of reconfiguring the term charge the current definition is too broad.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said the bill tried to protect the interests of residential and commercial property owners, while permitting major cities to use eminent domain to revitalize "truly blighted areas."

"That's the problem," Robb said. "If you allow that, and obviously, permit that to any extent, obviously there is to some extent a loophole."

But Robb said that exception was slated for very narrow examples.

"The fact that elected officials have to make that decision, I think, eliminates, unless in a very strange circumstances, the abuses we've seen in the use of eminent domain."

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he voted for the bill because "something was better than nothing."

But Harris added that passing the bill in its current form means the legislation doesn't match Gov. Matt Blunt's rhetoric on the issue.

"The governor gave the impression, and I'm sure he'll continue to give the impression, that eminent domain is now dead," Harris said. "That's certainly not the case."

Harris added, "Taxpayers need to understand that eminent domain will still occur, that it is still possible for abuses to occur and they just need to be aware of that."