Arlington, Va.—Wyoming 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, Wyoming has passed strong legislation protecting small property owners from eminent domain. These reforms include redefining “public purpose” to mean the “possession, occupation and enjoyment of the land by a public entity” and not allowing the transfer of a private property to a private entity unless it is condemned for “public health and safety” and done so on a parcel-by-parcel basis.
“Wyoming 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.
The State Legislature was not in regular session in 2006. The Joint Agriculture Committee pledged to work toward two bills in 2007 that provide more protections for private property owners: one would focus on “urban” issues and one on rural issues.
House Bill 124 was one of the promised committee bills, but the reforms were incredibly meager. As drafted, the bill only increased notice and required the government to make an attempt at “good faith negotiations” before condemning private property, and early amendments seemed to weaken the bill further. However, property owners from across the state showed up at the Capitol to demand protection and their voices were heard, and Wyoming now has significantly stronger reform.
State, counties, and municipal corporations now may condemn only for public purpose, defined as “the possession, occupation and enjoyment of the land by a public entity.” Private transfer is prohibited except for “condemnation for the purpose of protecting the public health and safety,” and that condemnation is on a property-by-property basis. Municipalities are no longer allowed to delegate away condemnation authority, and if condemned property has not experienced “substantial use” ten years after the taking, the former owner may apply to the court to repurchase the property for the amount of the original compensation.
Although this new law is a dramatic improvement, Wyoming property rights remain at risk under the state’s water, mining, and common carrier exceptions unique to the state, if not the West. Additionally, a constitutional amendment is needed to ensure property rights protection for generations to come.
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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