Archive for Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Senate wants to limit forced sales, but debates ‘wiggle room’

March 21, 2006


— State and local governments would have far less power to force someone to sell their property so it could be used for economic development under a bill winning first-round approval Monday in the Senate.

Faced with questions of how far to go in protecting property rights, senators opted for tough new restrictions, rather than compromise legislation accepted by the League of Kansas Municipalities and agriculture groups seeking new protections.

Senators' action, which came on a voice vote, advanced the legislation to a final vote Tuesday, when passage would send the measure to the House.

The bill would allow only six instances in which governments could force the sale of property so it can be turned over to an individual or company. State law says forced sales are presumed to promote "public use" of the property.

The compromise, endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would have allowed forced property sales for economic development. But it would have required two separate votes by two-thirds majorities of a governing body, and that property owners be paid up to 75 percent more than a property's appraised value.

Those provisions didn't strike some senators as tough enough. During a 3 1/2-hour debate Monday, they voted 24-14 for an amendment handcuffing governments even more.

"I think it's good that we do the very best we can and make it as tight as we can," said Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe.

But some senators said the compromise was better because it protected property rights without preventing large economic development projects. Forced sales preceded the construction of Kansas Speedway and related development in Wyandotte County, a new Target distribution center south of Topeka, and a mall in downtown Manhattan.

"These bodies have to have some spot from which they can wiggle," Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, a former mayor, said of local governments. "If they don't have any wiggle room, they're toast."

The legislation is a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that said it's constitutional for states to allow the "taking" of property for economic development purposes. Since then, at least 30 states have considered proposals to limit the practice.

The bill wouldn't prevent forced sales of property for building roads or allowing utilities to run their lines through. Nor would it prevent the forced sale of property deemed unfit for human habitation.

But for economic development projects, the Legislature would have to approve each attempt to force a property owner's sale.

Backers of the tougher bill argued that the right to own and control property is fundamental to a free society and that government shouldn't be allowed to force someone to sell so that property can be turned over to someone else to make a bigger profit from it.

"Personally, I think to some extent that this is un-American," said Rep. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson. "People do not want government to take their property and give it to somebody else."

Some senators want to go even further and submit to voters a proposed constitutional amendment to protect property rights.

That approach found favor Monday with the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. It endorsed a proposed amendment to prevent the taking of property for economic development, require governments to pay 50 percent more than a property's appraised value in all forced sales and require government to hold taken property for at least seven years.

An amendment must be approved by two-thirds majorities in both chambers, then approved by voters. The House is likely to debate the measure this week.

"We put it in the constitution, and it's more permanent," said House Committee Chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend. "In this case, permanence is probably a virtue."


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