SALEM, Ohio – Eminent domain reform is on its way in Ohio.
The Ohio Senate passed two bills May 31 that would change the process for property seizures and make blight standards consistent statewide.
At the same time, the House of Representatives is weighing its own attempt to address the matter.
In the Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 1, introduced by Sen. Kevin Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls, was approved by a 21-11 vote in the Senate.
The resolution looks to offer a constitutional amendment to Ohio voters that would force local government to stop taking land just for economic development.
Coughlin’s office said independent public surveys have shown support for putting more restrictions on government use and abuse of eminent domain, and this would ensure uniform standards throughout Ohio.
Coughlin said through passage of the bill, legislators were sending the message they respect the rights of private property owners.
“Eminent domain should be used only in rare circumstances and not as a tool for overzealous government officials looking to raise more tax money.”
Conditions. Senate Bill 7, introduced by Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, passed the Senate May 31 by a 29-3 vote.
The bill’s language was the brainchild of a 25-member task force established through Grendell legislation during the 126th General Assembly.
The bill sets Ohio’s eminent domain standards, defines blight, and outlines conditions that must exist for the government to take private property.
Passage of the bill allows more public notice and input before eminent domain proceedings begin, requires elected officials to approve land takings when an involved agency is composed completely of appointed members, and allows property owners to repurchase unused property.
And, when it comes to farmland, the bill says a field or farm can only be called ‘blighted’ if it poses environmental or public health hazards.
Disputes. Grendell’s bill would also provide more protections and rights for property owners during eminent domain disputes, such as placing the burden of proof on a government entity when its authority to take a property is challenged.
The bill provides for the awarding of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs if the government loses its case, or if the jury awards the landowner an excess of the government’s good-faith offer to purchase the property.
In the event of an eminent domain taking, the bill also provides for compensation to the property owner for costs associated with relocation and loss of business.
All those points were task force recommendations.
Applies statewide. Because of Ohio’s home-rule constitutional provision, municipalities currently can set their own standards for eminent domain proceedings. There’s no consistency for property owners between one community and the next, according to the legislators.
“We introduced this as a package because without both bills, we cannot ensure equal protections for all residents of Ohio,” Grendell said.
“Private property rights should be universal whether you live or own property in a city, village or township.”
House. House Bill 5, with many of the same intentions as the Senate actions, is sponsored by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville.
Gibbs introduced the bill in February and it’s currently in the House judiciary committee.
Priority push. Eminent domain reform has been a high priority for numerous state agricultural groups, including the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
“Eminent domain reform is an enormously important issue for the farmers and agricultural interests of Ohio,” said Rocky Black, senior director of policy and political affairs for the Farm Bureau.
“If farms and private property are not protected from takeover by the highest possible legal standards, we have failed to protect the most basic of American rights.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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