Among the properties claimed by the sweep of eminent domain is the Minnesota State Capitol.
The issue has become big.
On Thursday (Jan 5) a diverse coalition — Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform (MNEDR) — presented proposed eminent domain reform legislation to be carried by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.
Within minutes of that press conference, three local Republican senators — Sean Nienow, Pat Pariseau, and Mady Reiter — were hawking a rawboned eminent domain reform bill whose sleekness they believe make it a perfect alternative bill.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, too, on Thursday added his voice to the growing din calling for eminent domain reform. “In general, we have given our government too much latitude,” he said.
Eminent domain is the legal process by which government can take private property.
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, helped push the festering issue into national prominence last summer.
The MNEDR press conference had supporters lining a wall — representatives from groups seemingly unrelated like the Urban League and Farm Bureau.
Rep. Jim Johnson, R-Plymouth, House Civil Law and Elections Committee chairman and attorney general candidate, and Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, are carrying the MNEDR legislation.
“This Bakk/Johnson legislation is the key vehicle for reforming eminent domain abuse in Minnesota,” said attorney Lee McGrath, executive director for the Institute For Justice Minnesota Chapter and MNEDR frontman.
Some provisions in the MNEDR bill include a restrictive use of eminent domain, a compensation provision that requires payment to include costs beyond bricks and mortar — a business’s total value, for instance — reimbursement of legal costs of property owners who successfully defend against an eminent domain, and an eminent domain public hearing by elected officials requiring a majority vote for action.
One local person who heartily endorsed the MNEDR proposal was Jim Meide of Champlin.
Meide, 77, a retired teacher and MNEDR member, and his wife Beverly, 75, have lived in a home along the Mississippi River for 30 years, raising six children there. Now they believe their “castle on the Mississippi” is threatened by a proposed development by the City of Champlin.
“I want to die in that house,” said Meide at the press conference, saying the couple considers the home an investment.
“Offer me a million dollars and I’ll think about it,” he said of selling his home.
Johnson, who believes an eminent domain bill will pass the Legislature this session, argued that people facing eminent domain judgment feel helpless against the juggernaut of government.
“People who sell with a gun to their head are not selling voluntarily,” he said.
The legislation proposed by three local senators is shorter than the MNEDR — just 13 lines.
“We decided we wanted it simple,” said Pariseau, R-Farmington, saying the bill focuses on definitions. But most eminent domain concerns can be addressed by the bill, said Nienow, R-Cambridge. “This is quick and easy,” he said.
A handful of other eminent domain bills have already been simmering within the Senate Republican caucus, Pariseau explained.
The legislative session does not begin until March.
Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, worries about emotional responses to the U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision.
“Our main concern is that we don’t have kind of a hysterical reaction to a factual situation that’s been misrepresented,” said Miller.
He argues that the League's 853 city members have shown restraint with eminent domain — only a fraction using it in recent years.
McGrath called the results from a recent League survey “bogus.”
The U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision does not change Minnesota law, said Miller. “Eminent domain is and of itself is not something anyone would say is good idea,” said Miller.
But it is a tool of government, he argued.
Nienow, too, views eminent domain as a legitimate function of government. “But the use of that has pushed the boundaries of what we as a people would generally agree on,” he said.
Miller does not expect an agreement to be worked out on eminent domain prior to start of session.
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