Amendment restricting eminent domain takings advances at ConCon

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STATE HOUSE — Land takings that would serve to benefit only private development would be restricted in Massachusetts under a proposed change to the state constitution advanced Wednesday with no debate.

North Reading Republican Minority Leader Brad Jones said the proposal is a response to the 2005 Kelo v. New London decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation sums up the 5-4 ruling as permitting the Connecticut city to take property from homeowners and transfer it to a private owner as part of an economic development plan, classifying the case as an example of judicial activism.

Jones said the economic development planned for the site in New London fell through, and suggested without a restriction eminent domain could be used for an array of private business interests.

“If you don’t like the Best Western Hotel, we can take it and turn the property over to Ritz so they can build a nicer hotel. That doesn’t seem to be right,” Jones told the News Service. He said, “Theoretically it would be permissible under the federal constitution. We wanted to make sure it was impermissible under the state constitution.”

The proposed amendment was given voice vote initial approval by House and Senate members during an eight-minute Constitutional Convention as the House and Senate cleared the joint session calendar ahead of a May 18 debate on a proposed 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million.

The legislation (H 1400) requires a recorded vote, with 101 members of the 200-seat House and Senate voting in favor of it this session before it could advance to next session, according to Jones.

Jones, whose caucus makes up about a fifth of the Legislature, said he told members he wanted the item to advance to a third reading “otherwise I’d just as soon debate it.”

The proposed amendment would state in the constitution, “The taking of land or interests therein by eminent domain for private commercial or economic development is hereby declared not to be a public use of the commonwealth.”

Jones suggested that the proposed amendment would not necessarily impede public-private partnerships, as long as the land was being taken for a public use.

“If you’re doing a rail-line, or a school or a playground, that’s all public use,” Jones said.

The Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts, which is listed in opposition to the legislation on the Secretary of State’s lobbyist registration page, declined comment.

More than a dozen House Republicans are signed on as cosponsors of the constitutional amendment, including Assistant Minority Leader Bradford Hill of Ipswich, Second Assistant Minority Leader Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough, and Lakeville Republican Rep. Keiko Orrall, who was elected this week to the Republican National Committee.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service