10.01.2008 0

Delaware Restricts Eminent Domain Takings

  • On: 10/13/2008 12:33:12
  • In: Property Rights
  • Gas prices and the thermostat are not the only things soaring these days. In Delaware you might just happen to spot some pigs flying as well.

    In a rare move, the Delaware state government made efforts Tuesday to reduce—that’s right—reduce its powers and authority. Bill 245, which aims to prohibit city governments from taking private property unless it is strictly meant for “public use,” passed in the Senate by a 19-1 vote and has now been sent to the House.

    No, this is not a joke.

    The proposed restrictions on the power known as eminent domain come as a great, but highly welcomed, surprise for those who champion freedom, private property rights, and conservative principles. After all, eminent domain is an often abused power and has steadily evolved into a Big Government monster since its questionable inception in 1791.

    Until recently, eminent domain was solely reserved for the most extreme instances of utmost government necessity. Then, in the 2005 case Kelo vs. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could transfer property from one private owner to another as an outright money-making ploy—for the politicians and their supporters.

    This ploy, however, may no longer be feasible under Bill 245.

    In an article published in the Delaware News Journal, the precise and narrowly defined nature of the bill is articulated:

    “The bill whittles the definition of “public use” to specify that the property must remain in public possession, to be used to construct schools, roads or government buildings, for example. It also pares down what qualifies as blighted or slum properties by mandating that they must constitute a danger to public health…The bill also specifically prohibits eminent domain from being used to take property for economic redevelopment.”

    The legislation is not without its opponents, which, obviously enough, are members of the government. Those fighting against Bill 242 include Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker, members of the Delaware League of Local Governments, and the one dissenting state Senator.

    The main thrust of their argument revolves around the notion that Delaware’s cities and towns would suffer. Mayor Baker was quoted as saying:

    “It would hamper the whole city – period…Our development, the protection of our citizens and neighborhoods from unsafe buildings that are about to fall apart, would literally come to a screeching halt.”

    The Wilmington Mayor, however, conveniently disregards the aforementioned fact that the bill carries a provision placing “blighted or slum” properties constituting a “danger to public health” within the realm of the government’s eminent domain powers.

    Another argument waged against Bill 245 is that if enacted, government-acquired land deemed unusable would be prohibited from being sold by the government. The question one must ask in response is why did the government acquire unusable land in the first place? If anything, this legislation would force the government to take a good, hard look at its eminent domain habits and only take lands strictly needed for “public use” and “public use” alone. After all, this was eminent domain’s original purpose and the fact that the government could find itself in possession of unusable lands in the first place is an outrage.

    Although the fate of the legislation is still hanging in the balance, its passing would constitute a significant victory for the cause of limited government. In a day and age when government seizes upon every opportunity to inflate itself and extend its reach, it is reassuring to know that there are still some in leadership who value private property rights and basic American freedoms.

    ALG Perspective:
    The Delaware Legislature is to be respected for the steps it has taken to cut back on eminent domain powers and restore authority to the people of Delaware. We sincerely hope other states still exercising liberal eminent domain policies will follow suit and limit the authoritarian practice propagated by the Kelo decision. At the same time, states must also bear in mind that simply limiting eminent domain does not quite go far enough. Just compensation based on market prices must also be given to those from whom the government takes property.

    We urge Delaware residents to contact their representatives and voice their support for Bill 245. More information can be found at:

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