Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Speaking of the Supreme Court... .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Speaking of the Supreme Court...

I don't claim to understand what the Supreme Court was thinking when they validated ELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al., which basically said that municipalities had the right to condemn and seize properties that stood in the way of economic development, and paved the way for private companies to kick landowners out to make room for shopping centers, marinas and anything else that would raise the tax base for local government.

The concept is simple: a homeowner pays property tax. A business owner pays property tax and revenue tax. Which is higher? You do the math.

But the issue is whether the landowner - who owns the land and probably pays income tax elsewhere - retains his rights when the municipality wants his land for something lucrative.

This is America, and screw the greedy developer who wants to kick you off your land, right? Many an old western movie was based on this premise, and Gene Autry or John Wayne set things right, with 90 minutes of entertainment thrown in to boot.

Not so in the modern world. All of the John Waynes (or Ronald Reagans and Arnold Schwarzeneggers) are on the side of the developers, and even Judge Roy Bean (i.e. the Supreme Court) says "tough luck, sodbuster. You should'na been in the way of progress".

But was this just an attempt to throw legislators a bone because of the ruckus raised over the Shaivo case? When the courts, local and national, stuck with their principles and ruled that the gubmint didn't have the authority to interfere with the rights of family, legislators got all high and mighty and demanded that the judiciary be subject to their oversight.

Could this have been an attempt to dampen the legislators rightous indignation by allowing them to legislate counters to the decision? Because the Supreme Court made it clear: state and local legislators could pass legislation that would supercede this decision. And what legislator that wants to be re-elected wouldn't jump at the chance to appear to stand up for Joe Voter?

Which is exactly what the Texas Legislators did. Senate Bill 62, which passed unanimously, will supposedly protect property owners against claims of eminent domain for economic development reasons, giving members of both parties the appearance of positive votes for homeowners rights.

There are a few exceptions and restrictions, though. For example, the protection does not apply:

  • if the economic development is a secondary purpose resulting from municipal community development or municipal urban renewal
  • if to eliminate an existing affirmative harm on society from slum or blighted areas
  • to a sports and community venue project approved by voters at an election held on or before December 1, 2005
  • if the purpose is for a gas station, convenience store, or similar facility (related to toll road activity).
As you can see, there are several special interest provisions here, but it's unclear who insisted these special interest provisions be included. In any event, it's politics as usual, and a bi-partisan legislature passed this.

Just hope that a toll road doesn't pass your property, that some local municipality doesn't decide your grass is too long and you represent a "blight", that you aren't in an area in need of urban renewal, and that you aren't in the way of a planned sports facility.

Other than that, freedom wins, and our leaders have protected your rights.

Conditional love. It's the new American way.


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