State lawmakers inch nearer to a deal on eminent domain

ST. PAUL -- State lawmakers predict they are near agreement on new protections for property owners against the government's ability to take their land.

ST. PAUL -- State lawmakers predict they are near agreement on new protections for property owners against the government's ability to take their land.

Governments will have to meet a higher threshold when trying to seize private property under eminent domain legislation being hammered out by a House-Senate conference committee.

The 10-member panel met for the first time Friday to compare the two bills approved earlier this legislative session by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers. There are differences between the House and Senate plans, but legislators said they are close enough that a compromise is nearly guaranteed.

"My hope is that we can do it in a week," Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, said of reaching a final deal on the popular legislation. Johnson, a Detroit Lakes native, and Sen. Tom Back, DFL-Cook, sponsored the eminent domain bills and are the committee's chairmen

Both the House and Senate want to make it very difficult for governments to take land from one private property owner for use by another private owner, such as a developer. They also want to change laws governing when land can be taken for a public use, such as a school or road.


Minnesota is among states strengthening their eminent domain laws after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year upheld a city's ability to take private land for a private economic development project. The court said states can make their laws more restrictive, which is what Minnesota legislators are doing.

Lawmakers must settle three main differences, Johnson said.

They disagree over how attorney fees for landowners if they win an eminent domain challenge.

The House and Senate also differ over compensation for business owners if their land is taken. Lastly, the two sides are at odds over how to define run-down property.

The committee must also agree on when a new law would take effect. During their hearing Friday, legislators said some provisions will be stripped away to reduce the possibility of legal challenges that could result in the entire law being thrown out.

One such House proposal allows a private garbage hauler to be compensated if a city decided to switch to a government-run hauling program and prohibited private companies from competing.

Conference committee members said the measure carves out a problematic exception and could lead to complaints from other types of businesses.

"Why are the waste haulers so special?" asked Sen. Linda Higgins, a Minneapolis-based DFL'er.


The committee is scheduled to meet again Wednesday, when it will hear testimony from city representatives and others with concerns about the legislation.

Lawmakers could complete negotiations by next Friday.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said a final bill should strike a balance between limiting government's power and not making it too costly to acquire private land for legitimate public projects.

"We're trying to protect landowners," Murphy said. "And we're trying to protect taxpayers."

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