Topeka A proposed constitutional amendment to protect property rights failed Thursday in the House, but members weren't through trying to prevent Kansans from being forced to sell their homes and businesses.
The vote on the proposal was 81-43 - three votes short of the needed two-thirds majority. The measure would have prevented the state, cities and counties from forcing property sales, except for public use.
However, the House still planned to consider a bill requiring the Legislature to approve each instance in which government tried to force a property sale for an economic development project.
Passing a bill is easier, requiring simple majorities in both chambers and the governor's signature, while a proposed amendment requires two-thirds majorities, then approval by voters statewide. The bill in the House already passed the Senate.
Property rights advocates worry that it would be easy for legislators in the future to undo the protections granted in a bill. But some legislators don't want to make the restrictions so stringent that cities and counties can't pursue economic development.
"Some people believe a constitutional amendment is too rigid and takes away too much flexibility," said Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, who supported it.
Supporters of restricting government's ability to seize land argue that property rights are fundamental to a free society.
While no legislators have disagreed, some have argued that going too far risks handcuffing economic growth. Forced property sales preceded construction of a downtown mall in Manhattan, a Target Corp. distribution center south of Topeka and Kansas Speedway and related retail development in Wyandotte County.
"Putting it in the constitution, making it as narrowly drawn as that one was would really hamstring major cities," said Rep. Nancy Kirk, D-Topeka.
Kansas is among 40 states that have considered limiting government's use of eminent domain. They're responding to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private economic development.
But the court also said states are within their rights to pass additional laws restricting condemnations.
"I've heard from a lot of constituents who are still upset," Huebert said.
Kansas law says such forced sales are presumed to promote "public use" of the property.
The Senate-passed bill allows six instances in which state governments can force a sale so property can be turned over to another individual or company, such as building roads, stringing utility lines or dealing with abandoned and uninhabitable property. The sixth and final instance is when legislators approve.
Under the failed amendment, no property could be taken through eminent domain for use by any private commercial enterprise, economic development or any private use unless the property owner was willing to sell.
The proposal also required governments to pay 50 percent more than a property's appraised value in most forced sales. When a government took property, it would have been required to hold it for at least seven years before giving it to a third party.