2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Minnesota Gets A “B-”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Minnesota 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, Minnesota has passed strong legislation protecting small property owners from eminent domain abuse.

“Minnesota homeowners are 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 response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, an amazing and diverse coalition of civil rights groups, religious leaders, trade associations, concerned citizens and officials from Minnesota’s major political parties worked together to reform the state’s eminent domain laws. The coalition included representatives from the Institute for Justice, NAACP, Urban League, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hmong Chamber of Commerce, Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, Teamsters, Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, National Federation of Independent Business, other trade associations, ministers from local black churches, former Independent Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny, and individuals who had been threatened with takings of their property.”

Bipartisan legislative reform was introduced in the first week of the legislative session and on May 19, 2006, the governor signed into law Senate File 2750, legislation that protects homes, farms and small businesses from eminent domain abuse. The law explicitly prohibits municipalities from using eminent domain to transfer property from one owner to another for private commercial development. It also requires that blighted properties be an actual danger to public health and safety to be condemned for private development. Non-blighted properties can be condemned only if they are in an area where the majority of properties are blighted and there is no feasible alternative to taking them to remediate the blighted properties.

Unfortunately, SF 2750 exempts more than 2,000 Tax Increment Financing districts, many of which are in the Twin Cities, for up to five years. It also includes exemptions for projects in Richfield and Minneapolis. Although the end result is very strong reform that provides Minnesotans with significant protections, if the bill had passed without exemptions the State Legislature could have boasted enacting one of the strongest reforms in the nation.

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 Minnesota 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.”

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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 or in the evening/weekend at (703) 527-8730. For more information on eminent domain abuse, visit www.ij.org or www.castlecoalition.org.]