Private property ownership is an original and fundamental right that existed before the formation of government.
Ohioans’ fundamental right to property is recognized by Article I, Section 19, of the Ohio Constitution, which reads “private property shall ever be held inviolate.”
The Ohio Constitution also recognizes that private property is subject to the government’s power of eminent domain for “public use” upon the payment of “just compensation” to the property owner.
Shift in power. The balance between private property rights and governmental eminent domain powers was substantially tipped in favor of the government by the aberrant decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London. In response to the Kelo decision, the Ohio legislature unanimously passed S.B. 167, which placed a moratorium on Kelo-type economic development “takings” and created a task force to study and recommend changes to Ohio’s eminent domain laws.
Subsequently, the Ohio Supreme Court, in the Norwood case, held that private property could not be taken solely for economic development purposes. This judicial decision made the legislative moratorium on Kelo-type takings a permanent prohibition in Ohio.
Proposed changes. The Legislative Task Force on Eminent Domain has recently recommended additional changes to Ohio’s eminent domain laws for better protection of private property rights in Ohio.
Some of these recommended changes include restrictions on the taking of farmland, enactment of an objective and uniform definition of “blighted property” for urban renewal takings, and payment of relocation and moving costs to displaced property owners.
Other recommendations include reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and litigation costs, providing landowners with early access to the government’s appraisal, and a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution to provide for uniform eminent domain standards for the protection of private property rights for all Ohioans, regardless of whether they live in a city, village, or township.
Amendment is critical. Of all the task force’s recommendations, the proposed constitutional amendment is by far the most important.
Failure to pass a constitutional amendment providing for uniform eminent domain standards would jeopardize the value of the proposed state statutory changes to protect private property owners and would allow for the elimination of state statutory safeguards by local governments exercising their “home rule” powers.
While urban redevelopment and urban renewal of truly blighted areas are important, private property rights in a “home rule” municipality are the same and deserve the same protection from the misuse of eminent domain powers as those of Ohioans living in less urbanized areas.
Why should property owners be treated differently in the protection of their property rights simply because their properties are taken by a home-rule city?
Why should hundreds of Ohio cities be allowed to adopt their own standards when the underlying fundamental private property right involved is the same?
Protection needed. Simply put, the fundamental right of private property ownership is not dependent on the location of a municipal boundary line.
Property owners are entitled to the same treatment and protection from the misuse of eminent domain powers from the shores of Lake Erie to the banks of the Ohio River.
By placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot, Ohioans will be given the opportunity to decide whether uniform statewide eminent domain standards should be adopted to protect the private property rights of all Ohio property owners.
State and local officials who really care about private property rights should not oppose a constitutional amendment that provides for fair and uniform eminent domain standards for the legitimate use of eminent domain.
This decision should not be left to politicians and bureaucrats. Since a fundamental individual constitutional right is involved, the people of Ohio ultimately should decide if private property rights are going to be less protected in home rule municipalities.
As the vanguard for private property rights, the Ohio agricultural community hopefully will support and work for passage of the proposed constitutional amendment.
(Ohio Sen. Tim Grendell, who represents Lake, Geauga and portions of Cuyahoga counties, co-chaired the task force on eminent domain.)
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