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

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

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

“Oregon 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, “Oregon is an example of a state in which citizens were so dedicated to making eminent domain reform a reality that they took the matter into their own hands. The Oregon State Legislature did not have a session scheduled for 2006, so a group of passionate citizens organized to get a statute on the ballot that would limit the government’s authority to use eminent domain for private benefit.”

Measure 39, the statute proposed in the initiative, forbids government parties to condemn private property used as a residence, business establishment, farm, or forest operation “if at the time of the condemnation the public body intends to convey fee title to all or a portion of the real property, or a lesser interest than fee title, to another private party.” Given the opportunity to vote on it, Oregonians approved the new law by nearly two-to-one. The new statute is particularly important because its language prohibits private-to-private transfers (although the use of “intends” makes that prohibition incomplete since it is always hard for a citizen to prove government intent). The initiative states that a blight designation can be applied only to individual properties that constitute a danger to the health and safety of the community.

Even though Oregon now has valuable statutory limits on the use of eminent domain, they can still be reversed by future acts of the State Legislature. In order to ensure that these reforms are made as strong as possible, this state needs to adopt a constitutional amendment that will safeguard property rights by enshrining a narrow definition of “public use” in its organic law.

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.

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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.]