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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Curbing eminent domain abuse should be priority

Federal and state constitutions give governments the right to condemn private property for public use as long as the owners receive fair payment.

Somewhere along the way "public good" crept along side "public use" and property owners began to see property condemned and sold to private developers, all in the name of job creation, urban renewal or economic development.

Often the condemnation sales go to politically connected corporations and individuals who turn huge profits from re-development.

The Alabama Senate is wrestling with questions concerning eminent domain after last summer's U.S. Supreme Court ruling to allow New London, Conn., to replace shabby ocean front homes with commercial development.

Doing that meant ousting the longtime owners and forcing sales to developers.

That episode, while only one of many such transactions across the country, alarmed the nation. The Alabama Legislature passed a law to stop abuse of eminent domain last summer after the high court ruling, but legislators fear it needs to be stronger and in the form of a constitutional amendment.

That is why the Senate has three eminent domain bills to consider. Hopefully, they will shape them into legislation that will protect property owners while not allowing landowners to be obstructionists.

One way to be fair to property owners and protect the public good is to ensure that the owners receive a premium price for their land. They morally are entitled to compensation to fully replace what government takes from them.

But before taking property, state and local governments need to demonstrate a compelling reason for condemning private property.

How to adequately protect property and the public is why the Senate has three bills that attempt to serve the same purpose. "Public use" and "public good" leave a lot of room for mischief.

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