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Eminent Domain Redux

You probably remember how eminent domain legislation sailed through committees last year and was unanimously presented to Governor Richardson to sign into law – only to be vetoed. You remember that, right?

Then chances are that you will also recall that Bill Richardson was one of only two Governor’s to veto this type of legislation. And, of course, no one can forget that he tried to divert attention to his support for continuing eminent domain by convening – yes, you guessed it – another task force.

Well, the rubber is going to meet the road this year for Governor Bill Richardson. Continuing his Kelo loving ways is just not going to play well on the national campaign trail. And there is just no way he is going to be able to turn his back on one of the few hot issues actually alive and well in the Legislature this year.

According to one press release from the Institute for Justice, the House Judiciary Committee was supposed to consider several eminent domain bills when it met today including one standout:

Among the most important legislation the Legislature will consider is House Bill 393, which would remove the power of eminent domain from New Mexico’s Metropolitan Redevelopment Code.

“HB 393 would in no way affect cities’ ability to use eminent domain for traditional public uses, such as the construction of roads, or to protect the public’s health and safety,” explained Jennifer Perkins, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice who testified several times before the Task Force. The Institute for Justice litigated the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court and the organization has been leading the nationwide effort to reform eminent domain laws. “Cities could no longer, however, seize entire neighborhoods only to hand the property over to a private developer for the purpose of private economic development. The bill would no longer allow them to justify a massive taking on the fact that one small street needs widening.”

Let’s hope this legislation moves as swiftly as last year’s. If so, I don’t see any way for the Governor not to sign it this go around.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Received this update and correction from Jennifer Perkins at the Institute for Justice and forgot to post it:

By way of update, apparently the committee discussed legislation last night and Chairman Al Park has now decided they should somehow work to combine the various bills. So there’s been no vote yet, and the committee will take the issue up again next Wednesday (apparently).

I’ll keep you posted if I hear any updates, but I’m not sure this is a good sign.

Oh, one other thing. Technically, three Governors vetoed eminent domain legislation last year: Arizona, Iowa and New Mexico. In Iowa, the legislature came back in for a special session and overrode the veto; in Arizona, the citizens passed a fairly sweeping ballot initiative last November to solve the problem. So New Mexico’s the only one remaining where the Governor stood in the way of reform and nothing has yet changed that…