COLUMBUS - The Ohio Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make it more difficult for government to take private property for public use.
But a separate proposed constitutional amendment requiring statewide standards for exercising the power of eminent domain and prohibiting the taking of private property primarily for economic development reasons was a tougher sale.
"We've seen the abuse, not in every city...,'' the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), said. "What Senate Bill 7 does is eviscerate government's theft of private property under the guise of blight.''
The bill sets up a list of criteria that governments must prove to make the case that a private property is blighted enough that it would be in the public's interest to force its sale to the government. It would also require the government to show that 90 percent of the parcels in a neighborhood are blighted before the entire neighborhood could be bulldozed.
Reform of the eminent domain process was initiated in 2005 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the U.S. Constitution did not prevent the city of New London, Conn., from condemning structurally sound private property to make way for development that would generate more tax revenue.
A year later, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the Ohio Constitution does provide such protection. The court chastised the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood for forcing homeowners and businesses to sell their properties for a private developer's $125 million upscale condominium, retail, and office project.
The Senate package, however, goes further than the court decision as well as the recommendations of a bipartisan task force issued last year.
Senate Minority Leader Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) was one of just three senators to oppose the bill and one of 11, all Democrats, who opposed the proposed constitutional amendment. "I was very concerned about the demand we were putting on the governor in other eminent domain proceedings,'' she said. "It's going to hamstring his administration.''
Keith Daily, spokesman for Gov. Ted Strickland, said the governor generally supports the concept behind the bill, but has expressed concern about the volume of eminent domain proceedings he would be asked to approve.
Mr. Grendell's bill, establishing the statewide standards referred to in the constitutional amendment, would require the governor to approve all eminent domain proceedings exercised by agencies under his control. That would include proceedings initiated by the Department of Transportation for road improvements.
Opponents of the constitutional amendment argued that it was unnecessary given the state Supreme Court ruling and that it would further erode local governments' home-rule authority. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R., Cuyahoga Falls), needed a three-fifths vote of the chamber. It ultimately passed with one vote to spare at 21-11. The spare vote was a Democrat.
For the proposed amendment to make the Nov. 6 general election ballot, the joint resolution must also win a three-fifths vote, 60 out of 99, in the House. Majority Republicans would need more Democratic help to make that happen.
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