February 11, 2007

Bill would curtail property seizures

I am sponsoring the Property Protection Act of 2007 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in Kelo vs. the City of New London, Conn. During the 2006 session, I sponsored similar legislation, which was approved unanimously by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The Kelo decision expanded government's power to take private property for economic development, which the Court saw as benefiting the public good. Before the Kelo decision, government's eminent domain powers were exercised for public uses. For example, government condemned land to build schools, roads or rail lines. Additionally, and with public input, government condemned land to erase urban blight, with projects like Baltimore's Harborplace.

The Property Protection Act of 2007 establishes specific protections, such as requiring government to adequately compensate property owners, including compensation to business for loss of "good will." The measure is designed to prevent a free-for-all land grab, in which land is condemned for the benefit of private developers and private profit.

Just one year after the Kelo decision, more than 5,700 homes and businesses were threatened with seizure for private development. By comparison, from 1998 to 2002, 10,000 properties were similarly threatened or taken by eminent domain powers.

The backlash to Kelo has come as no surprise. States, including Maryland, have considered legislation to curb abuse of eminent domain powers. Thirty states have enacted restrictions on government's eminent domain powers.

Many have characterized the Kelo decision as legalizing government's right to rob the poor to make the rich richer. I couldn't agree more.

James E. DeGrange Sr. Glen Burnie

The writer is a state senator representing District 32.

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