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Missouri eminent domain reform threatened by SoS Robin Carnahan

It seems that statists will do anything–including repeating previous errors–to prevent protection of individual rights. Such is the case in Missouri, where Secretary of State Robin Carnahan recreated an issue that kept a ballot measure from reaching voters last election.

After the Supreme Court’s historic Kelo decision, which held open the door for developers to use eminent domain to redevelop private property whether or not the land owners wanted to sell, Ron Calzone went to work making sure Missouri’s laws were changed to protect private property.  Several states have amended their laws or Constitution to prevent this type of eminent domain abuse since the Kelo v New London decision.

Calzone submitted a ballot initiative to amend the state’s constitution to end such abuse and ensure that eminent domain could only be used for government projects, not private businesses, with some exceptions for utilities.  The problem came in the wording of the ballot title, the wording that a voter sees when voting for the amendment.  From the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch:

Calzone is convinced his proposal to restrict the use of eminent domain will win easily — if he can only get it on the ballot. He’s been at it since shortly after the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision that brought national attention to the eminent domain issue.

Last year, Calzone submitted ballot language to Carnahan, hoping to get it before voters in November 2010. But the Missouri Municipal League sued and got the wording changed in court.

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Last year, Carnahan wrote that the petition seeks to — among other things — restrict eminent domain by: “requiring that any taking of property be necessary for a public use and that landowners receive just compensation.”

The current law requires “just compensation” when an entity takes land from a private owner, and Calzone doesn’t want to change that. The appeals court ruled that because that part of the ballot language was repeating existing law, and not describing something new that the ballot initiative would require, that it be struck.

So this year, instead of striking the phrase “and landowners receive just compensation,” Carnahan rewrote it to say: “while continuing to provide just compensation.”

In other words, Carnahan reopened the very door that the Appeals Court had shut the year before. If Calzone loses the court battle, he’ll have to start over collecting signatures. The court battle took long enough last time that Calzone couldn’t collect the necessary signatures in time to get the measure on the ballot. Calzone is worried that the same thing will happen again.

Carnahan’s office made excuses that the wording is more clear, but Calzone believes that eliminating the wording won’t prevent the ballot from passing. Keeping it in, supporters of the measure counter, just allows the Missouri Municipal League the same opportunity to sue again.

An interesting side-note to the Kelo decision: After all the litigation, when all the homes in New London’s Fort Trumbull district including Susette Kelo’s were bulldozed, the private developer decided not to go through with the project. The economy, it seems, had soured. The developer cut its losses and walked away, leaving the city with barren land and lost tax revenue.

Below is a video developed by the Institute for Justice detailing the Kelo case that inspired Calzone’s amendment petition.

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