Padden bill protecting private-property rights approved by Senate

Today the Senate approved Senate Bill 5363, which would prohibit government’s use of its eminent-domain power for economic development. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, passed the Senate by a vote of 30-19 and now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

The term “eminent domain” refers to the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise the power on behalf of the public, following the payment of just compensation to the owner of that property.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says private property can only be taken by the government for public use. However, courts have defined ‘public use’ so broadly that governments at various levels can take a citizen’s property for whatever purpose it chooses, even if it is to sell that property to a private developer or even another private citizen. Issues of blight and economic development are often cited as sufficient causes for eminent-domain condemnations.

“No private-property owner should lose his or her land simply because some developer knows the right person down at city hall,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “The government should not be determining winners and losers. Moreover, economic development should never be the deciding factor when initiating a condemnation action.”

This issue was put in the national spotlight after the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the city took Ms. Kelo’s home and turned the property over to the Pfizer drug company and a private developer – an act the Supreme Court ruled was within constitutional bounds. The court acknowledged that states were also within their rights to more tightly define their statutes governing eminent domain.

Following the Kelo decision, 43 states reformed their eminent-domain laws, and SB 5363 would add Washington to that list. Under the bill, private property may be taken only for public use, and public use is specifically defined as not including economic development. The bill would also expressly prohibit any public entity from taking property for the purpose of economic development.