Friday, Jul 01, 2016
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Eroding eminent domain

THE responsible use of eminent domain by local governments to cultivate economic development for the greater good of the community is being threatened by the Ohio Senate. It has narrowly approved a pair of measures that would severely limit the power of cities and local governments to acquire private property by eminent domain for redevelopment.

Hopefully, the Senate proposal to curb local home-rule authority will be mitigated by a less restrictive House bill that does not include a companion resolution to amend the state constitution. The Senate bill would create tough uniform state standards for what constitutes blighted property for eminent domain purposes while adding procedural safeguards for property owners.

A separately proposed Senate resolution would change a 96-year-old provision in the Ohio constitution that gives municipalities the right to set their own standards for use in eminent domain - meaning state rules would override local laws.

Such a change obviously concerns cities like Toledo, which acquired 85 residential and 20 commercial properties, a few by eminent domain, to build the Jeep North plant. The move was essential for Toledo's economic future.

So it's understandable that the proposed amendment, which would further erode cities' home-rule authority, is strongly opposed by local governments across the state. They say they're held to a higher standard than state agencies or private utilities which also have eminent domain authority.

Legislation that prudently balances the rights of private property owners with the responsibility of cities to develop economic strategies for the benefit of all may be warranted. But the double-barrel Senate package goes too far and would hamstring the ability of local governments to acquire property for economic revitalization.

Certainly, as we've said before, all eminent domain cases are not equal and local governments should not be allowed to abuse their power when seizing private, non-blighted land for questionable public investments.

Like the Senate bill, the House version seeks a more uniform definition of blight for local governments to meet before attempting any land grab.

But unlike the Senate bill, the House legislation does not call for a constitutional amendment and offers more leeway for cities in determining what a blighted area is an eminent domain case. The House proposal of tighter eminent domain rules closely follows the recommendations of an eminent domain task force that convened last year.

The legislation's thrust of clarity, uniformity of process, and equity of rights between government and private property owners on eminent domain seems a more reasonable alternative to the Senate's overkill on home rule.

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