by Rep. Lesil McGuire
December 13, 2005
The 5-4 ruling by the Court was a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose long-time homes are now slated for demolition to make room for an office complex. The plaintiffs contended that a city government has no authority to take private land except for circumstances where that land will afford a project with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas. As a result of this ruling, cities have a wide range of power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes to generate tax revenue. It was a decision fraught with huge implications for a nation with many areas, particularly the rapidly growing urban and suburban centers, which faces contradictory pressures of development and property ownership rights.
Recently retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has repeatedly been a swing vote on many cases before the Court, issued a stinging dissent. She stated that cities should not have unlimited power to uproot families, even when compensation is made, simply to accommodate wealthy developers. "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random," O'Connor wrote. "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms."
It is important to note the Supreme Court merely recognized the State of Connecticut's right to set its own guidelines for defining eminent domain. I can find very little fault with that approach. This is precisely the reason I am introducing legislation which will clearly define the State of Alaska's laws regarding eminent domain to prevent a repeat of what transpired in Connecticut. I believe the Alaska Constitution protects Alaskans from such an egregious attack on personal property. I fully intend to insure that our state statutes afford the same protection of property.
Eminent domain has a legitimate place in land development, but its use must be controlled within a narrow definition to protect private property rights, never for purely economic purposes. And if it becomes necessary to seize someone's property, the standard should be even higher and certainly not so that others may "enjoy" the area. In every case, the owner of the property must be fairly compensated for his property for all aspects of the seizure, not just the value affixed to it by a government. Personal property rights are a very high priority, especially in Alaska where such a small percentage of land is in private hands.
Alaska's Constitution guarantees a person the right to privacy in their home but allows the government to take all or part of the home through eminent domain so others might have a recreational opportunity. This is unacceptable to me and should be to you, as well. A family who has sacrificed to live in and develop their home should not be forced to sell their home or the yard their children play in so that others may have leisure opportunities. Alaska has thousands of acres of land and it is unacceptable to take someone's home for recreational opportunities. If a government feels the need to take a home for such purposes it should purchase the land on the open market like any other person or group which does not have the ability to seize the land through eminent domain.
Rarely have I had so much positive feedback from proposed legislation. I look forward to your input and urge you to contact my office at 269-0250 if you have any questions.
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