HEA1010 Tightened Eminent Domain Procedures

(posted Sept 22)

State Representative David Wolkins of Winona Lake, Indiana continues the fight to stop abusive eminent domain practices. Wolkins received applause from the Farm Bureau Eminent Domain 101 attendees for his legislation HEA 1010 that reformed many of the eminent domain practices. "I hope to get things fixed," he said to the crowd at the September 9 seminar. Wolkins explained that not all of his reforms made it into HEA 1010.

He said Indiana Association of Cities and Towns was one of biggest adversaries to passing HEA1010.

It was Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs New London and the Capital Improvements Board's attempt to take the Hurst Bean property for Lucas Oil Stadium parking that launched the eminent domain issue into the public forefront. It was public awareness that led to the passage of HEA 1010. His earlier attempts failed in previous years because most legislators did not have an interest in the issue.

Some of the legislative changes included redefining blight with more strict criteria.

Wolkins said his legislation was opposed by his hometown, Winona Lakes, because the redevelopment project meant taking property for private to private gain. The project was supported by most of the town, but just not the methods used. The developer purchased all but one parcel in private sales, but negotiations failed with one owner. The redevelopment commission blighted the property and it was taken by eminent domain.

He also plans to look into possible reforms for redevelopment commissions.

Wolkins explained that it is difficult to attend his hometown government meetings because of his position as a state representative. He said the local newspaper identifies him as a state representative so he is concerned how his opinion comes across. He said he does not want to influence the board as a state representative, but as a local taxpayer expressing concerns. "I don't feel that I can go and voice my opinion as just a citizen."

Steven Anderson, Castle Coalition executive director, said no property is safe from eminent domain since the Kelo case. He said the court case opened the flood gates for abuse. He said 10,000 abusive eminent domain cases were reported from 1998 to 2002, and after the Kelo case the number tripled. "Property rights are about people. Homes are where families gather."

He said it is very difficult to stop eminent domain, but he suggested that people become organized at the grassroots level. Residents need to make it clear that even if people are not on the acquisition list it could happen to them with later expansions.

"If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."