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

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Washington 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, Washington made moderate improvements to the state’s eminent domain laws, eliminating an unfair notice provision to better protect property owners, but significant reform is still needed if the rights of property owners are to be protected.

“Washingtonians 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, “The Washington Legislature intended to make eminent domain reform a priority of its 2006 session. The governor proposed legislation early in the session and the issue was the subject of significant hearings and debate. Unfortunately, the legislative process ended up polarizing interested parties and, as a result, not one of the dozen eminent domain reform bills filed was passed.”

The report continued, “In 2007, House Bill 1458 was filed in response to Washington Supreme Court decisions holding that state and local governments could provide notice, on an obscure government website, of the public meeting where a final decision to condemn property would be made. Public meetings are vitally important because it is the sole opportunity a property owner has to provide evidence that his or her property is not necessary for the government’s purported public use.”

At the request of the governor and attorney general, HB 1458 was introduced with 54 co-sponsors and passed both houses of the Washington State Legislature by unanimous votes. The new law requires that a condemning authority in Washington notify affected property owners, by certified mail, at least 15 days prior to the public meeting at which a final decision on condemnation will be made.

Washington still has significant eminent domain reform to accomplish, but HB 1458 is a good first step and provides an immediate change to formerly unjust notice standards. Reform of other eminent domain laws is expected to remain on the agenda for next year’s legislature and Attorney General McKenna announced that he would create a task force to thoroughly review Washington’s eminent domain laws and recommend any necessary changes to the 2008 legislature.

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 Washington and beyond are to be safe 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.]