Friday, January 06, 2006

This is how it should be done

I love when this happens.

Democrats and Republicans coming together on issues and working to solve problems. We need much more of this and less of the partisan bickering.

I'm talking about the bi-partisan support of property rights in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling.

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Bakk & Johnson: Let's protect homes from eminent-domain abuse

Jim Meide fought in Korea because he believed in standing up for freedom. Today, he is fighting again -- this time to protect his home from eminent domain abuse. And we are going to stand with him.

Jim and Beverly Meide are a vigorous couple in their mid-70s who want to enjoy their modest, well-kept home in Champlin along the Mississippi River. But the city of Champlin has different plans and has proposed a "mixed-use village" that includes an upscale restaurant, high-end condominiums and retail space.

The Meides are not going down without a fight. "This is my house," Jim says. "I bought it, and we got it just the way we want it. I want to stay here. I want to die here. It's that simple."

It is perfectly fine for cities to use eminent domain for public uses, such as roads and government buildings. What they should not do is take property from A and give it to B just because B promises to create more jobs or pay more taxes on the land. If that type of economic development continues to be a legitimate reason to take someone's home, farm or small business, then no property in Minnesota is safe. That's because every home, farm or small business -- or even every church -- could generate more jobs and taxes if it were a Target, Wal-Mart or Starbucks.

A strong and clear definition of "public use" is essential to protecting hard-working Minnesotans like the Meides from having their property taken and given to commercial developers -- a sort of Robin Hood in reverse. Cities can give all sorts of incentives to developers, such as tax breaks or accelerated permitting to stimulate development. But cities should not be able to force residents to sell their properties to developers until the residents are ready to do so, and at a price established by the market, not by the government.

The Meides aren't the only ones subject to abuse. The Institute for Justice has documented that more than 10,000 properties nationwide were seized or threatened with seizure from 1998 to 2002, including 92 in Minnesota.

It is also fine for cities to use eminent domain to protect health and safety, including taking blighted properties. But under Minnesota's current loose standards, basically any property could be considered blighted and taken from its rightful owners for some other politically powerful person's private use. In 2001, for example, Minneapolis used its powers of eminent domain to condemn two small businesses at 50th and France. To do so, the city declared that a neighborhood filled with fashionable shops was blighted -- illustrating the fact that no one is safe from eminent domain abuse in Minnesota.

Jobs, taxes and bogus claims of blight can't continue to be used to justify the taking of private property by local government. Minnesotans are demanding that the Legislature reform eminent domain laws to protect what is rightfully theirs and that the reforms be comprehensive and genuine -- not just polite window dressing.

We have joined with a coalition called Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform, which spans the economic, ethnic and political spectrum. Among its members are the NAACP, Urban League, Hmong Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, Teamsters, National Federation of Independent Business, and Minnesota Family Council.

On Thursday we announced legislation to reform the use of eminent domain in Minnesota. It will clearly define what "public use" is and what it isn't. It will end bogus findings of blight and ensure that when a government agency does take private property for a legitimate public use, the property owners are fairly compensated.

Veteran Jim Meide is fighting again for the rights he believes in. And it is a fight for freedom that we are prepared to lead.

Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is vice chair of the Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee in the Minnesota Senate. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, is the assistant majority leader of the Minnesota House and chair of its Civil Law and Elections Committee. (Source: Star Tribune, Jan. 6, 2006)

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