- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Republican lawmakers yesterday proposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict state power to seize private property for economic development projects.

“This constitutional amendment was made necessary because of the expansion of eminent domain authority over the years by an increasingly liberal legislature and activist courts,” said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican.

The amendment, announced at a press conference by the Republican caucuses of the House of Delegates and the Senate, would limit the “public uses” for which the government can seize land to construct roads, parks, schools and some government-sponsored redevelopment projects.

It aims to address the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, Conn., which is widely viewed as an expansion of eminent domain powers.

The court ruled 5-4 in June that governments can take private property and give it to private developers to generate more tax revenue.

State Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, a leader of the Maryland amendment effort, said runaway eminent domain power has created a “reverse Robin Hood effect.”

“Unfortunately, these cases actually encourage the replacement of lower-income homeowners and businesses with affluent homeowners and upscale businesses,” said Mr. Kittleman, Carroll Republican.

A similar reaction has emerged among lawmakers nationwide.

Legislatures in Alabama, Delaware and Texas have enacted laws to restrict eminent domain.

In addition, legislatures in at least 19 states are seeking to enact laws or constitutional amendments that would limit eminent domain. The states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.

Kentucky, Rhode Island and several other states are seeking eminent domain limits in an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, at least nine states — Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington — have restricted condemnation for development to private property in “blighted areas.”

Before the Kelo ruling, Maryland was one of six states that permitted the government to take private property for economic development. The others were Connecticut, Kansas, New York, Minnesota and North Dakota.

An amendment to Maryland’s constitution must pass by three-fifths majority of the General Assembly. It then would appear on the ballot as a referendum question, requiring majority voter approval to become part of the state constitution.

The Republicans will need support from Democrats to get the question before voters. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1 in the General Assembly.

The press conference was not attended by any Democratic lawmakers. Republican leaders said they soon would begin seeking support of the Democratic leadership.

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