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

Arlington, Va.—Illinois 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, Illinois has done little to protect property owners across the state.

“Illinois 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 Virginia-based 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, “Illinois presents an example of eminent domain reform that sounds more impressive than it really is. The Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 3086 (2006), which purportedly limits the taking of private property for private development. This might be technically true, as the new law generally does prohibit government officials from condemning property for private development. But the legislature built in exceptions that significantly undermine the good that the bill otherwise might have done. The new law still allows the use of eminent domain to acquire property in a so-called blighted area.” Although at least five factors must be present for an area to qualify as blighted, the vague and illogical list of factors for a blighted area represent some of the worst examples in law, including “obsolescence,” “excessive vacancies,” “excessive land coverage,” “deleterious layout” and “lack of community planning.” The bill also still allows condemnations for private development, as long as economic development is a “secondary purpose” to the primary purpose of urban renewal “to eliminate an existing affirmative harm on society from slums to protect public health and safety.”

Because the state’s statutes still allow entire areas to be designated blighted on account of a few properties, the threat of eminent domain abuse still looms large in Illinois. SB 3086 did improve the situation by prohibiting the seizure of “production agriculture” for private development and by requiring the government to prove that an area is blighted before a condemnation can proceed. But unless citizens convince the General Assembly to create a tighter definition of blight and to assess properties on a parcel-by-parcel basis, Illinois will not avoid a very similar sort of eminent domain abuse to that evidenced in Kelo.

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, farmers and churches in Illinois and beyond are to be safe from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”
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