State Senate toughens eminent domain laws

ST. PAUL - Private property owners would have more protections if government tries to take their property under a bill passed Monday by an overwhelming majority of the Minnesota Senate.

ST. PAUL - Private property owners would have more protections if government tries to take their property under a bill passed Monday by an overwhelming majority of the Minnesota Senate.

The legislation, approved on a 64-2 vote, makes significant changes to the state's eminent domain laws - the process used by government to take private land for public use.

State legislatures have moved to toughen their eminent domain laws following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upheld cities' ability to take private land from one owner and give it to another for economic development purposes. But in its decision, the court noted that states can make their laws more restrictive, which is what Minnesota lawmakers are attempting.

"Most of us, most of our constituents, think that eminent domain should be used for public use," such as roads, and not for private development projects, said Sen. Thomas Bakk, DFL-Cook, the bill's author.

The bill passed by the DFL-led Senate makes it much harder for government to take property from one private owner for use by another private owner. It also makes it more difficult for a government to take land for redevelopment. Some legislators said the bill was too restrictive and makes it tough for legitimate public projects to occur in urban areas.


There were attempts by Senate Republicans to further limit government's ability to take land, but their amendments failed.

Provisions in the bill also allow property owners to be awarded attorney fees if they successfully challenge an eminent domain case. That is controversial because opponents say it invites more litigation.

"It's going to make doing redevelopment more difficult and it's going to make road projects more costly," Bakk admitted.

However, Bakk suggested the public should pay more for those projects if it means that private property owners will be fairly compensated for land they give up.

A provision attached to the bill during Senate floor debate could help rural Minnesota landowners. Sen. Gary Kubly, a co-author of the legislation, was successful in adding a provision to help farmers who suffer crop damage as a result of eminent domain proceedings.

Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, said he has seen examples in western Minnesota where a government project such as a pipeline that stemmed from a taking of agricultural land resulted in poor crop productivity.

Kubly's amendment allows farmers to be compensated for the loss. The amendment passed on a narrow 28-27 vote. Opponents argued that agricultural property was already covered under the bill and questioned how loss of productivity would be measured.

The bill also requires governments to hold public meetings when they plan to use the eminent domain process. Also, in cases where eminent domain is used to take business property, the owner must be compensated for the building and, if it isn't relocated, the value of the business.


A similar bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, a Detroit Lakes native, is moving through the House. If the full House passes its bill - which is expected in the coming weeks - the two proposals will be reconciled by a joint House-Senate committee.

Bakk predicated that lawmakers could have a reconciled bill on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk for his approval before the Easter/Passover break. Pawlenty has said he supports toughening eminent domain laws.

Sen. Steve Murphy convinced fellow senators to approve an amendment to the bill that provides compensation for business owners who lose money when eminent domain is used and a resulting project, such as a new road, limits access to the business.

Murphy said that in most cases, government workers "are trying to do the right thing" and be fair to property owners when an eminent domain case arises. However, Murphy said lawmakers have heard from property owners who shared stories about how they were unfairly compensated.

"It's very painful for some of these folks," the Red Wing DFLer said.

What To Read Next
Get Local