Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna has proposed two law that would limit and more sharply define the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is the power of government to take private property under certain circumstances.
Most people understand eminent domain as the power government exercises when it needs property to widen roads or build new fire or school houses. But increasingly, local governments are taking property for the purpose of economic development. Often the goal in these cases is simply to create more tax revenue for the community by converting property from one use to another, say from residential use to commercial use.
McKenna has proposed a law that would make this illegal. McKenna also has proposed a law that would make it more difficult for communities to declare large areas blighted and therefore easier to take for redevelopment. Currently, single blighted properties can lead to the condemnation and taking of whole blocks of surrounding property.
Under McKenna's proposal each property would have to be considered and condemned on its own terms. McKenna's proposals are not moving through the legislature right now. A hearing that was scheduled was canceled and it is not clear that these bills will advance this session.
The bill to limit eminent domain as a tool of economic development is House Bill 2425 and Senate Bill 6200. The bill to limit the power to define blight is House Bill 2423 and Senate Bill 6199.
So tell us what you think. Will these proposals tie the hands of local governments -- or are they a welcome protection for property owners?