Senate Bill 7- Eminent Domain Reform

Policy RadarSenator Timothy Grendell (R)-Chesterland has introduced a bill in the Ohio Senate that fundamentally changes the procedures and processes for the seizure of private property by eminent domain in Ohio for the better.

In 2005 the US Supreme Court ruled that eminent domain could be used by federal, state and local governments to obtain property on the behalf of private developers for the purpose of revenue enhancement. They ruled in the infamous Kelo v. City of New London case that this kind of seizure constitutes a public use as allowed for in the US Constitution. Of course, this is exactly the type of seizure that the Constitutional Convention intended to prohibit by limiting them to “public use” as the constitutional debate notes clearly indicate.

Some of the major problems with the current law are-

  • The definitions of what kinds of property, the condition of the property and the locations within given areas to being condemned are VERY vague and VERY favorable to the governing bodies and developers.
  • Properties are often defined as “blighted” under bizarre and unevenly applied criteria like single bathrooms and detached garages.
  • Unlike criminal cases the burden of proof on whether the property meets the already vague definitions lies with the defendent- the property owner
  • Property owners must also prove that the value “offered” for the property is not the fair market value. Sometimes governing bodies will devalue property based on having destroyed surrounding properties.
  • Property owners cannot currently seek attorney’s fees and court costs, even if the property owner prevails in proving that the seizure was improper or an undervalue
  • Business property owners are not currently compensated for loss of business and good will when their business locations are condemned and they are forced to move.
  • The term “public use” is extremely ill-defined under current law. There have been seizures on the basis that there might be some nebulous “future unforeseen need” for a property, or to provide access to privately held areas “under development”
  • There are more than five dozen governing entities which are authorized under current law to begin property condemnation procedures. Most of these are unelected bodies which are not accountable to the voters and taxpayers.

Senate Bill 7 would require the following remedies to these problems with current law-

  • Governing bodies would be required to prove that the property meets specific requirements on use of the property, the property’s condition and location of the property in order to be eligible for condemnation.
  • Specifically defines what constitutes “blight” and requires that 90% of properties in a specifically defined area meet that definition for the neighborhood to be termed “blighted.”
  • Burden of proof on property’s fair market value is shifted to the government body seeking to condemn the property
  • Property owners can seek to recover attorney’s fees and court costs if the condemning entity cannot prove its condemnation and offer are fair and proper, within specific guidelines.
  • Business property owners can seek compensation for loss of business and the good will of customers if forced to change location.
  • Defines “public use” and specifically prohibits seizure for revenue enhancement and on behalf of private developers. Condemnations for redevelopment of tightly defined “blighted areas” is still permitted.
  • This bill would severely restrict who could begin condemnation proceedings and requires that there be a formal procedure for public input on any proposed condemnation.

This bill also requires the Governor to sign off on any condemnation for Ohio’s public universities or highways.

What Can You Do?

We believe that this bill will pass the Ohio Senate fairly easily. We have reason to believe that the bill will have some trouble passing the Ohio House of Representatives in its current robust form. The Ohio House is relying on information gathered by an appointed panel on eminent domain which was appointed to study the problems caused by the Kelo decision. The panel appears to have been constituted with members who may be too friendly to the interests of the governing bodies and developers and their recommendations did not have the kind of “teeth” that appear in Senate Bill 7. We believe these teeth are completely necessary to protect the very foundation of liberty-private property rights.

Please contact Ohio House of Representatives leadership. The Speaker is Jon Hustead, the Speaker Pro Tem is Kevin DeWine, the Majority Floor Leader is Larry Flowers, the Assistant Majority Floor Leader is Jim Carmichael, the Majority Whip is Bill Seitz, the Assistant Majority Whip is Michelle Schneider, the Minority Leader is Joyce Beatty, the Assistant Minority Leader is T. Todd Book, the Minority Whip is Steven L. Driehouse, the Assistant Minority Whip is Fred Strahorn.

Please contact your own State Senator and State Representative and ask them to support SB 7, as well.

Letters are best, phone calls are next. Faxes and emails are far too easy to delete, shred or ignore. It’s hard to ignore a letter from a taxpayer.