Friday, June 23, 2006

Bush's Executive Order on E.D. needs Viagra

Bush Order Would Limit Property Seizures


Associated Press
Copyright 2006

President Bush ordered Friday that federal agencies cannot seize private property except for public projects such as hospitals or roads. The move occurred on the one-year anniversary of a controversial Supreme Court decision that gave local governments broad power to bulldoze people's homes for commercial development.

The majority opinion in the Supreme Court case involving New London, Conn., homeowners limited the homeowners' rights by saying local governments could take private property for purely economic development-related projects because the motive was to bring more jobs and tax revenue to a city.

But the court also noted that states are free to pass additional protections if they see fit. In a backlash to the decision, many have done so, prohibiting so-called takings for shopping malls or other private projects.

Many conservatives - particularly in the West - see the decision as a dangerous interpretation of the "takings clause" in the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which allows the government to seize property for public use with just compensation. They have argued such takings are an unjustified governmental abuse of individual rights.

Cities, though, backed by some liberals, see the takings power as an important tool for urban renewal projects crucial to revitalizing cities.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, welcomed Bush's executive order. But since the federal government has only a limited role in such projects, he said Congress must do more. Cornyn has introduced legislation that would also bar federal funding for any state or local projects in which the land was obtained through eminent domain.

"The protection of homes and small businesses and other private property against government seizure or unreasonable government interference is a fundamental principle of American life and a distinctive aspect of our form of government," Cornyn said. "The Supreme Court's decision last year represented a radical departure from the decisions handed down interpreting that constitutional provision over the last 200 years, and the president's action was an important step toward righting that wrong."

Doug Kendall, executive director of the Community Rights Counsel, which backed the city's right to take the homes in the Connecticut case, said Bush's order is relatively benign precisely because it doesn't include the funding ban Cornyn and other property-rights advocates want.

"This order appears to apply to a null, or virtually null set of government actions. ... I'm not aware of any federal government agency that takes property for economic development," he said. "It's an effort to appease the property rights base, while ignoring the difficult question of when eminent domain should be used to help downtrodden communities."

The White House defended the president's approach.

"The president is a strong supporter of private property rights, and this executive order put the federal government on record opposing eminent domain for merely economic development purposes," said Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for Bush.

Bush's executive order directs the attorney general to make sure all federal agencies follow the new policy. The kinds of projects that Bush's order says justify the taking of private property include parks, roads, medical facilities, government office buildings and utilities. Takings also would be allowed to prevent land uses that are harmful to the environment or public safety or to acquire abandoned property.

On Capitol Hill, conservative property defenders and liberals - worried that it could become too easy to tear down poor neighborhoods - have joined to advance legislation.

And Bush's executive order tracks a trend being set in state legislatures.

Since the Supreme Court decision, 31 states have passed laws restricting the use of eminent domain for economic development, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Governors in three states vetoed such legislation, but 21 state legislatures have passed measures that have been signed by their governors. Bills are still sitting on the governor's desk in three states. The remaining four states are letting voters decide the issue through constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Such measures also will be on the ballots in Florida and Georgia because those states required approval not only by lawmakers and the governor, but by the voters as well.

Larry Morandi, who follows state actions on eminent domain at the conference of state legislatures in Denver, called the president's executive order "middle-of-the road" compared with some state laws that are more stringent.

© 2006 The Associated Press: