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2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: North Carolina Gets A “C-”

Arlington, Va.—North Carolina 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, North Carolina has progress towards protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse, but much more work remains to be done.

“North Carolina 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, “The General Assembly commissioned a Select Committee on Eminent Domain Powers to assess the use of eminent domain in the state. Rather than proposing a constitutional amendment to create a fairly permanent prohibition on the use of eminent domain for private economic development, the Committee recommended only tweaking the state’s condemnation laws.

House Bill 1965, which was proposed by the Committee and eventually passed by the General Assembly, repeals all laws allowing local condemnations for economic development, meaning that a municipality must go through the General Assembly if it wants to get eminent domain authority for economic development. The bill did not narrow North Carolina’s broad definition of “blight,” although it does require blight designations to be assessed on a parcel-by-parcel basis.

The reforms thus adopted do provide modest protections for North Carolina’s homes, businesses, farms, and houses of worship, but they are still far from secure. In future sessions, the General Assembly needs to ensure that its blight laws only allow the condemnation of parcels that pose a threat to public health and safety. Furthermore, the state’s citizens should demand the opportunity to adopt a strong constitutional amendment that will enshrine a clear, narrow definition of “public use.” Without these changes, North Carolinians will not be completely free of the threat of eminent domain for private benefit.

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 in North Carolina and beyond are to be safe from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”

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