Nevada lawmakers launched a bipartisan effort on Tuesday to limit government eminent domain powers in a move that could head off a ballot proposal with more limitations.
The Senate and Assembly introduced similar bills, AB102 and SB85, prohibiting the taking of private property for economic development. The measures follow voter approval in November of a ballot question with stricter controls on government.
Question 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that got 63 percent of the vote, applies to all uses of eminent domain, not just economic development, and was criticized as being too expensive for government because it required compensation for the land be based on its "highest and best use."
The ballot question must win voter approval again in 2008, but support for the plan could fade if lawmakers act this session on their own measures - which they see as a better way to handle the issue than through a constitutional amendment.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, is the lead sponsor of AB102 and Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, is the lead sponsor of SB85. Dozens of other lawmakers from both parties signed onto the proposals.
Horne said it would take another four years to solve any problems stemming from a constitutional change, such as Question 2.
"If we have unintended consequences from that change, we cannot easily correct it," said Horne, who had pushed for eminent domain changes during the 2005 session. His earlier measure required redevelopment agencies to first attempt negotiating in good faith with property owners and provide a written purchase offer before resorting to eminent domain.
Horne and Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said the latest legislation isn't an effort to derail the ballot question, but rather a response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The high court ruled that a Connecticut city could seize homes - in what it deemed a blighted area - and turn the land over to a private developer as part of a redevelopment project that included condos, a hotel and commercial space.
Buckley said redevelopment can still happen, but governments need to work with property owners.
"It is in everyone's best interest to ensure revitalization happens. But government can't use its heavy hand of condemnation to say, 'You'll do it this way and no other way,'" Buckley said.
Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, one of several Assembly Republicans who signed onto AB102, said property rights should be protected. He noted the state Transportation Department once took land from him for road expansion and he didn't think he was adequately compensated.
"We don't want people to get a windfall but on the other hand if they've had this property for years and years, and maybe lived there or had a business, I think us as taxpayers ought to compensate them appropriately," Carpenter said.
The Fifth Amendment allows government to take private property through eminent domain if the land is for "public use" and if the owner is provided just compensation. The 2005 high court ruling clarifies that expanding the tax base may be interpreted as "public use." States may still make their own laws about taking property.
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