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

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

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

“Kentucky 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 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, Kentucky’s Legislature did pass a bill that modified the state’s eminent domain laws, but those changes did not fix even the most basic problems with its laws. Even after adopting House Bill 508, Kentucky still allows non-blighted property to be condemned even if the state does not intend to own or occupy the property, and its statutory language could even allow condemned property to be handed over to other private parties.” In addition, Kentucky’s eminent domain laws leave in place the common blight loophole that, due to an extremely broad definition of what can be considered blighted or “slum” areas, could permit the taking of entire neighborhoods of well-maintained homes.

Without further reforms, Kentuckians will continue to live under the threat that their homes, businesses, farms and houses of worship could be taken for someone else’s private gain. The Legislature should more carefully hone the definition of public use to only include traditional public uses, close the blight loophole by adopting narrow and objective standards based on threats to the health and safety of the community, require blight to be assessed on a parcel-by-parcel basis, and adopt a constitutional amendment that defines public use and prohibits the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private person to another.

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 and churches in Kentucky and beyond are to be safe from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”
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[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.]