4/26/2006 2:44:00 PM Guest Column Eminent-domain bill has protection for property owners
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For The Daily News
The House of Representatives met for only two days last week and is scheduled to meet two days this week. While there was not much news on progress related to the budget, an important bill did pass related to the topic of eminent domain. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this issue.
Private-property ownership is one of the foundations of our democratic society. Concerns arose about the rights of property owners after the United States Supreme Court decision last year in the case of Kelo v. City of New London. While the Kelo decision is somewhat complicated, simply put the decision granted broad authority for governments to seize property for development - even in situations where the government then gives the property to a private developer for private development. I have strongly supported legislation this spring that would provide additional protections to private property owners in order to offset the effects of the Kelo decision.
This past week, SB 3086 passed the House. The bill strengthens the public use standard for seizure of property by requiring that the property taking must be primarily, rather than "to some extent," for the benefit, use, or enjoyment of the public. This higher standard will make it much more difficult for any government to take property unless a clear connection can be made. In addition, if the property taken is to be owned by a private developer, the standard increases even more from "primary" to "by clear and convincing evidence."
I am not an attorney. However, many legal experts have informed me that these new standards are difficult to meet. In fact, the "clear and convincing" standard is especially difficult to meet when seizing property. That is as it should be. While from time to time, in limited circumstances where a greater public good can be clearly demonstrated, one can justify the power of eminent domain use, to take land from the rightful owner in order for a private developer to prosper is not the American way.
The legislation further provides that in any situation where property is seized, relocation costs, and costs of reestablishing the business are included in the costs for which the property owner must be reimbursed by the government. Attorney fees can also be recovered in those cases where a court rules that the governing body did not have the right to take the property.
While some municipalities opposed the legislation, the bill passed by a substantial margin in the House and awaits final action in the Senate.
Speaking of the Senate, while the House is scheduled to meet this week, the Senate cancelled plans to meet. That means there is no way a budget agreement will be finalized before May 1. While we are technically not in overtime session until after midnight on May 31, we are almost a month past the scheduled adjournment date of April 7. After May 31, it takes a super-majority in of the House and Senate in order to pass the budget. You might remember two years ago that the session went until July 24 before an agreement could be reached.
I really do not see that kind of extended session this year. My guess is that sometime before mid-May, the majority party will come to some type of agreement. However, I would gladly go to Springfield all summer again if we end up with a responsible spending plan. The state simply cannot afford to increase debt any more than we already have. Over the past three years, our bonding debt has grown from $7 billion to over $20 billion.
In other business last week, several bills moved through the committee process and are ready for votes on the House floor. One of the bills that will get some attention is SB 2795. This is a major school district reorganization bill. I have personally worked for about a year and a half on this bill. It has the potential to result in more school reorganizations in the next few years than have taken place over the past 20 years.
A major feature of this legislation is the fact that nothing in the measure forces consolidation or any of the other type of school district reorganization that currently exists. If passed by the House and Senate and signed by the Governor, the new law could make it easier for districts that want to reorganize to do so. A lot of red tape would be eliminated and more flexibility would be allowed in cases where schools want to reorganize in ways that benefit taxpayers and, most importantly, students. New, creative types of district formations would be allowed and no tax increases could take place as the result of any reorganization without a front-door referendum approved by affected taxpayers.
On a final note, I want to express how disappointed I am with the fact that a major bill which was designed to promote ethanol has been bottled up by the majority party. The legislation, SB 2236, is floundering in the House Rules Committee. The measure would require a certain percentage of ethanol use in Illinois and provide incentives for ethanol fueling stations and the purchase of flex-fuel vehicles. It is a shame that the bill is not moving. Unfortunately, while gas is hovering at or above $3 gallon, the Speaker of the House refuses to move a bill that is in the long-term best interest of our state and the nation. Illinois should be leading the way in the ethanol industry and the Farm Bureau as well as the Illinois Corn Growers Association should be stomping up and down outside the speaker's office.
I will keep you updated on budget issues and other legislation while the extended session continues. In the meantime, you can track legislation at www.ilga.gov If you have any comments, please write me at either P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433 or 222-N, Stratton office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will also keep you updated on my web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.