Rep. Larry Springer calls for protections against abuses of eminent domain

State lawmakers should prohibit government from seizing private property and transferring it to developers in order to boost economic development and tax receipts, witnesses told the House Judiciary Committee today.

They were testifying for a bill proposed by state Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) that would impose a statewide ban on using eminent domain for private economic development.

“There are appropriate uses of the power of eminent domain, but taking private property and turning it over to developers for the sake of making money is not one of them,” Springer argues.

Springer served on the Eminent Domain Task Force that state Attorney General Rob McKenna convened to examine potential abuses of eminent domain in Washington.

The Task Force was created after the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2005, to the surprise of many, that it was not unconstitutional for government to seize private property in order to promote private economic development and increase tax revenues.

The Eminent Domain Task Force found that only a few Washington counties protected citizens against the seizure of private land for economic development. Pierce County is protected by a charter amendment that passed with 70 percent of the vote.  A similar protection was put into the Clallam County Charter by 86 percent of voters in 2007.

The legal vulnerability of other Washingtonians to economic development takings led the Task Force to make a statewide ban on the practice its top recommendation.

“People need to know that nearly all local officials respect their citizens’ property rights,” said Springer, who served as the mayor of Kirkland from 2000-2003. “But freedoms are only secure when they are protected by law and not simply by the good will of public officials.”