2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: New Hampshire Gets A “B+”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

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

“New Hampshire 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, “On Friday, June 23, 2006, exactly one year after the Kelo decision, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed into law Senate Bill 287, legislation that provides citizens with meaningful protection against eminent domain for private profit.” The eminent domain reform bill, which sailed through both legislative houses, explicitly states, “Public use shall not include the public benefits resulting from private economic development and private commercial enterprise, including increased tax revenues and increased employment opportunities.” Unfortunately, the bill continues to allow the use of eminent domain for the elimination of blight, and even though SB 287 requires that an individual property, as opposed to an area, be a “menace to health and safety,” the blight exemption still prevents New Hampshire’s reform from receiving the highest grade.

Knowing that statutes are easier to repeal than constitutional provisions, the New Hampshire General Court also made sure that the state’s citizens had the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the greatest possible protection for their property rights. CACR 30 was that proposed constitutional amendment, which said: “No part of a person’s property shall be taken by eminent domain and transferred, directly or indirectly, to another person if the taking is for the purpose of private development or other private use of the property.” In the November 2006 elections, more than 85 percent of New Hampshire voters cast their ballots in favor of this new provision.

This is one of the strongest reform efforts mounted in response to Kelo. New Hampshire legislators understand what defenders of eminent domain abuse still do not—that Kelo created a big problem for the states to fix, that economic development will undoubtedly continue without eminent domain, and that every home, business, farm, and place of worship needed protection against condemnation for private gain.

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 New Hampshire 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.]