Policy Analysis | October 2010

Permanent Property Rights Task Forces

Jonathan Watts Hull

Permanent Property Rights Task Forces or Commissions would seem to be rare. A number of states created temporary bodies to review state policy on eminent domain in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case. Some states took the added step of establishing a permanent ombudsman responsible for resolving eminent domain disputes and abuse. In recent years, there has not been much legislative interest in eminent domain generally. The downturn in the economy has dampened much of the enthusiasm for public takings of private land for private economic development projects, thus reducing the friction that the Kelo case generated.

Following the Kelo decision, nearly 40 states took some action in response, including restricting the very kinds of developments that the City of New London undertook or strengthening and reinforcing public notice and the definition of both public purposes for which a property could be condemned or the conditions (blight) for which a public interest could be defined.

Washington State has an Eminent Domain Task Force located within the Office of the Attorney General. The Legislatively-created Task Force has continued to meet after its appointed term to monitor activity and make further adjustments to their recommendations. The Task Force issued its final report in 2009 making recommendations that would bar the use of eminent domain for private entities, reform the state's community renewal law, and seeking the adoption of best practices for the exercise of eminent domain. Another example of a state eminent domain task force can be found in Ohio, where the Task Force released its final report in 2006.

Legislation was unsuccessfully introduced in the New York State Assembly in 2009 to establish a citizen commission to review the state's eminent domain procedures and policies. Interestingly, New York had a State Commission on Eminent Domain in the early 1970s that evaluated the state's then-current policies and made recommendations to expand the rights and expectations of condemees. (See here, p 30 and following.)

Connecticut had a state ombudsman for property rights until budgetary constraints forced its elimination in September of 2009. Utah created an Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman in 2006, which is still operational as a part of the state Department of Commerce.

Missouri's ombudsman came about as the result of recommendations from the Missouri Task Force on Eminent Domain (final report here), formed to analyze Missouri's laws regarding the use of eminent domain and issue recommendations that better protect the rights of property owners when the use of eminent domain is being considered. The Task Force was created by Executive Order in 2005.