2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Idaho Gets A “D+”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Idaho home and small business owners have reason to be concerned 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, Idaho has done little to protect property owners across the state.

“Idaho homeowners are not 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, “Unlike many states, Idaho has relatively weak constitutional language regarding the property rights guaranteed its citizens.” Although the Idaho Constitution does require that condemned property be taken for a public use, it also says “any … use necessary to the complete development of the material resources of the state, or the preservation of the health of its inhabitants, is hereby declared to be a public use.” To the detriment of property owners in the state, the Idaho Supreme Court has further weakened property rights by adopting an interpretation of public use that is not tied to—and therefore not restrained by—any traditional understanding.

In 2006, the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 555, which ostensibly adds to the state’s existing law by providing limitations on eminent domain for private parties, urban renewal or economic development purposes. Unfortunately, the Legislature left several loopholes, including one that allows condemnations for “those public and private uses for which eminent domain is expressly provided in the constitution of the State of Idaho.” Thanks to the aforementioned broad language of the Idaho Constitution and its interpretation by the state supreme court, the door to eminent domain abuse remains wide open.

In the November 2006 election, the state had a citizen initiative, Proposition 2, on the ballot that contained the same meager reforms contained in HB 555, but with the added (and very controversial) element that would have limited regulatory takings. In the absence of meaningful protection against eminent domain abuse and with the added confusion of the regulatory takings measure, the amendment failed to pass.

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.
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