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Local officials tell Congress about the importance of eminent domain.

Two mayors testified before Congress on behalf of the National League of Cities last week on how eminent domain, when used appropriately, is an important economic development tool for local governments.

"One of the most important responsibilities of any municipal government is to provide for the economic and cultural growth of the community while safeguarding the rights of the individuals that make up that community." said NLC Second Vice President Bart Peterson, mayor of Indianapolis, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. "The prudent use of eminent domain, when exercised in the sunshine of public scrutiny, helps achieve a greater public good that benefits the entire community. Used carefully, it helps create hope and opportunity for people and communities that have little of both."

Peterson and Hartford, Conn., Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, urged Congress to carefully examine any federal bills that limit eminent domain. Several bills are under consideration in response to the Kelo vs. New London Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes.

NLC contends that eminent domain is not only an important economic development tool, but that state and local authority to regulate eminent domain should not be usurped by federal legislation.

Both Peterson and Perez stressed that the Kelo decision did not expand the power of eminent domain, rather it affirmed a power that already existed. They also cautioned that, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, proposed limits to the use of eminent domain should be studied carefully to insure that no harm is done to the efforts to revitalize cities and regions such as the Gulf Coast.

"Municipal officials like me know from experience what the judiciary has affirmed--that economic development is a public use," Perez told the committee. "By subjecting development projects to judicious public debate and by planning these projects with the public welfare in mind, Hartford is able to use eminent domain prudently to allow the city and its citizens to develop the community in a way that is transparent and beneficial for all residents."

Perez added, "The best solutions come at the local level. Let communities develop their own vision of what they need."

"If cities did not have the tool of eminent domain, it would be impractical to undertake large economic development projects," Peterson said. "I know that there is a success story in each of your home states, of a project that transformed an area and created jobs and home ownership opportunities, that occurred because of eminent domain."

Peterson described a project in Indianapolis that used eminent domain to turn a blighted area known for violence and drugs into a beautiful mixed-income neighborhood with homeowners of all backgrounds, including a majority of low-income residents, with 71 percent first-time homeowners.

During questioning from senators, Perez maintained that local officials take eminent domain seriously and only use it after serious discussion and public debate. He also noted that state legislatures and city councils are considering their own limits to eminent domain, leaving no need for federal action.

Peterson also urged Congress not to intervene in an issue that should be decided at the state and local level.

"It is best left to the state legislatures to make decisions about future uses of eminent domain," Peterson said. "Don't federalize local land use in response to this court decision. Whether any changes are needed in how state and local governments use eminent domain should be discussed and implemented in the laboratories of democracy at the state level."
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Author:Hogan, Cyndy Liedtke
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Sep 26, 2005
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