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2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Vermont Gets A “D-”

Arlington, Va.—Vermont 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, Vermont as done little to protect property owners across the state.

“Vermont 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 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, “Like many other states, Vermont made a limited effort to address the concerns of citizens who were outraged over the Kelo decision, but it unfortunately fell well short of enacting real reform.”

Senate Bill 246, passed by the Legislature and signed into law in April 2006, prohibits the use of eminent domain where “the taking is primarily for purposes of economic development” or confers a private benefit on a particular private party. Although the Legislature at least acknowledged the need for eminent domain reform, the language adopted in this bill will be of little to no help to home and business owners forced to try to rebut a municipality’s claim that its primary purpose is something other than private development.

Even more importantly, the Vermont Legislature left in place the same kind of “blight” loophole that enables eminent domain abuse in other states, allowing condemning authorities to designate entire neighborhoods as blighted on the basis that a few individual properties meet vague and subjective criteria that have little to do with the health or safety of the surrounding community.

The Vermont Legislature needs to follow up Senate Bill 246 with substantial reforms that will close the “blight” loophole, clearly limit the approved public uses of eminent domain, and prohibit the transfer of private property to other private parties.

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

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