"The founders of our nation understood the need to protect private property from government seizure," said Senate Minority Leader Lowell Stoltzfus (Dist. 38, Somerset, Wicomico & Worcester Counties), in a prepared statement to the press.
The amendment would define "public use" as ownership by a governmental entity or physical use or access by the general public. It would not include use for economic development purposes such as creating jobs, generating tax revenues, attracting new business activity or encouraging the expansion and retention of existing business activity.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision this summer in Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn. ruled that government can seize private property and give it to private parties to generate tax revenue. The court broadly interpreted “public use” as “public benefit,” effectively allowing government to take private property and give it to another private party. States thereby were granted expanded eminent domain authority unless they pass restrictions such as those contained in the Maryland lawmakers' proposed constitutional amendment.
"Unfortunately these cases actually encourage the replacement of lower-income homeowners and businesses with affluent homeowners and upscale businesses," stated Sen. Allan Kittleman (Dist. 9, Howard and Carroll Counties), in the press release from the legislators.
House Minority Whip Tony O'Donnell (Dist. 29C, St. Mary's and Calvert Counties) expressed the opinion that the amendment "was made necessary because of the expansion of eminent domain authority over the years by an increasingly liberal legislature and activist courts." He cited "the Senate Bill 509 debacle in Baltimore County five years ago," which was ultimately defeated. That bill would have allowed the taking of private property on the east side of the county for private development.
House Minority Leader George Edwards (Dist.1A, Allegany and Garrett Counties) stated, "The Maryland Constitution must protect the property rights of all Marylanders, including homeowners, farms, and small businesses. Be it ever so humble, it's still my home."
This story was published on October 18, 2005.