Reacting to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave local governments more power to seize people's homes for economic development, [Colorado] lawmakers on Tuesday took a first step toward placing limits on that power.
If approved by two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature, voters in November will decide whether to approve the measure that would bar using eminent domain for economic development.
Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said he proposed the referred measure because his ski shop was taken over by the Winter Park Recreation Association when Denver wanted more revenue.
"I have been subject to a takings of property. It's a very personal issue for me," White told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which heard from a parade of witnesses who said they lost property after governments seized their property.
The measure was amended to allow property to be condemned for public safety, though lawmakers rejected an attempt to allow the use of eminent domain to clear slums, blight or for public welfare. White said those uses led to abuses that allowed local governments to seize property for economic development.
It was also changed to allow access on private land for water rights.
Supporters told lawmakers it would be better for lawmakers to refer a measure than to leave it to drafters of a stricter initiative.
The issue erupted across the nation after the Supreme Court issued a ruling, Kelo vs. City of New London, that said New London, Conn., could seize homeowners' property to develop a hotel, convention center, office space and condominiums next to Pfizer Inc.'s new research headquarters.
The city argued that tax revenues and new jobs from the development would benefit the public. The Pfizer complex was built, but seven homeowners challenged the rest of the development in court. The Supreme Court's ruling against them prompted many states, including Colorado, to examine their eminent domain laws.
Jessica Peck Corry, a policy analyst for the conservative Independence Institute, said abuse of eminent domain has become a major issue in Colorado.
"This truly is the civil rights battle of the 21st century," she told lawmakers.
Several property owners told lawmakers they had been the victims of eminent domain, including Marsha Looper, an El Paso County resident who opposes a proposed 210-mile, Wellington-to-Pueblo road nicknamed "Super Slab."
"No one is safe from a condemning authority," she told the committee.
The committee also approved a separate measure (Senate Bill 154) that would consolidate all groups that have condemnation power in one place in statutes so property owners can determine which government agencies have power to condemn their property.