Wisconsin Eminent Domain Reform

Wisconsin Eminent Domain Reform
Narrowing “Blight” To Protect Property Rights

The government should not have the power to take your home, farm or small business to give it to a developer.

In 2005, the Supreme Court decided in Kelo v. City of New London that private property could be seized for economic redevelopment. Many states, including Wisconsin, reacted with outrage to the Kelo decision, passing laws to limit the government’s power to take private property under eminent domain. In 2006, the Wisconsin legislature enacted Assembly Bill 657, which prevented the transfer of non-blighted land to private developers.

But in spite of the clear intention of the Wisconsin legislature, many cities have been evading the post-Kelo reforms by declaring land they want to transfer to be “blighted” and therefore exempt from the new limits on eminent domain use. In 2009, the city of Greenfield tried to seize Bill Maynard’s auto repair shop as part of the multi-million-dollar “Greenfield Commons” project. Even though there was no evidence that Maynard’s shop was unsafe in any way, Greenfield tried to declare it “blighted” so that, in the words of the mayor, they could “add valuable tax base to the city.”

The city of Oak Creek tried the same trick in 2010 when it tried to grab the farm of 94-year-old Earl Giefer. Giefer’s farm had been in his family since the Civil War. But Oak Creek was afraid that its mere presence might discourage the growth of a nearby business park, so they declared it “blighted.”

Public protest stopped Greenfield and Oak Creek temporarily, but the danger remains as long as Wisconsin law allows cities to declare property to be “blighted” as a pretext for evading the legal limits on eminent domain use. Working with IJ coalition members like Earl Giefer, Bill Maynard, and the Castle Coalition, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin legislators has proposed Senate Bill 83 to close the blight loophole and secure the property rights of Wisconsin home and business owners. Passage of SB 83 is an essential step in the fight against eminent domain abuse.


Related Work

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Castle Coalition WI Property Rights Report Card

Article: Oak Creek drops eminent domain plan, Giefer to keep farm The Daily Reporter (June 1, 2010)

Video: Greenfield Alderwoman responds to eminent domain outrage; Fox 6 Now.com (June 5, 2007)


Essential Background
Download: Backgrounder (April 2011)




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