2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Florida Gets An “A”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Florida home and small business owners have reason to celebrate according to a 50-state eminent domain report card released today. In the two years since the infamous Kelo eminent domain ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed eminent domain for private gain, Florida has passed some of the strongest legislation in the nation protecting small property owners from eminent domain abuse.

“Florida homeowners are much more protected from eminent domain abuse today than they were the day the Kelo decision was announced,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, a national grassroots organization that examined and graded eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states since the Kelo ruling. Read the report at: www.CastleCoalition.org/publications/report_card.

According to the report, “In 2006, the Florida Legislature proved that it understood the public outcry caused by the Supreme Court’s abandonment of property rights. Florida created a legislative commission to study the use of eminent domain and ways of reining in abuse, then passed House Bill 1567 with an overwhelming majority. The new law signed by the governor requires localities to wait 10 years before transferring land taken by eminent domain from one owner to another—effectively eliminating condemnations for private commercial development. HB 1567 also forbids the use of eminent domain to eliminate so-called blight, instead requiring municipalities to use their police powers to address individual properties that actually pose a danger to public health or safety.”

The report went on, “Not content with mere statutory protections, the Florida Legislature also put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot so that the state’s citizens could make sure that these reforms could not easily be stripped away. The new amendment, which was approved in a landslide, requires a three-fifths majority in both legislative houses to grant exceptions to the state’s prohibition against using eminent domain for private use.”

The report concluded, “Thanks to these sweeping reforms, Florida has gone from being among the worst offenders where eminent domain abuse was concerned to offering some of the best protection in the nation for homes, businesses and houses of worship that formerly could have been condemned for private development. HB 1567 and Florida’s new constitutional amendment should be models for other state legislatures. They prohibit takings for private benefit while still allowing the government to condemn property for traditional public uses such as roads, bridges and government buildings.”

Among the states that passed the strongest reforms protecting property owners are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, each of which received an A or A- grade. States that received F’s were: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

“In only two years since Kelo, 41 states have reformed their laws to offer greater protection to small property owners,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney with the Castle Coalition. “But much more work remains if homeowners, small business owners, churches and farmers are to be as safe as those in Florida from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”

The report seeks to step back and evaluate the legislative work that has been done and is left to do. It finds, “Some states have passed model reforms that can serve as an example for others. Some states enacted nominal reform—possibly because of haste, oversight or compromise—and need to know what is left to fix. And finally, there are those states that have failed to act altogether, leaving home, farm, and business owners threatened by Kelo-type takings and beyond.”

# # #

[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205 or in the evening/weekend at (703) 527-8730. For more information on eminent domain abuse, visit www.ij.org or www.castlecoalition.org.]