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Missouri Eminent Domain Initiative Amendment to Article VI (2008)

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The Missouri Eminent Domain Initiative Amendment to Article VI did not appear on the November 8, 2008 statewide ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure proposed changing the power of the General Assembly and constitutionally chartered cities or counties to:
  • Prohibit the use of eminent domain to acquire and resell property found to be blighted, substandard, or unsanitary for the purpose of clearance, redevelopment or rehabilitation
  • Allow them to require owners of property found to be a public nuisance to abate or clean up the nuisance and, if the property owner fails to do so in a reasonable time, allow the local government to pay for the abatement and impose a lien to recover the cost.

Supporters filed petition signatures on May 4, 2008, the final deadline for submittal.[1] Election officials determined that insufficient signatures were filed to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Proponents challenge state ruling of 'insufficient signatures'

Missouri Citizens for Property Rights announced August 6, 2008 that it intends to challenge the Missouri Secretary of State's Tuesday ruling that it has not submitted enough valid signatures for its two constitutional amendments to appear on the November ballot.[2]

Challenge dropped; proponents look to 2010

Missouri Citizens for Property Rights sued in August after the secretary of state's office concluded it had collected too few signatures to place the amendments before voters. Ron Calzone, the group's leader, said it dropped the lawsuit because it became obvious there was no way to get enough signatures.

Calzone said he will try to get similar measures on the ballot for the next election cycle in 2010.

The lawsuit argued that signatures from the 2nd Congressional District weren't counted because the addresses on the petition and the addresses on file with local election authorities didn't perfectly match. Ballot measure supporters contended that the signatures should count if both addresses are within the congressional district.

After reviewing the voter rolls in the district, Calzone said, it became apparent the group's drive would fall at least several hundred signatures short.

Calzone said the lawsuit had been filed without really knowing if it would be successful, because state law allows just 10 days to challenge the secretary of state's certification decision.[3]

Support

The Missouri Citizens for Property Rights sponsored the initiative. They wrote in a press release:

Perhaps of greatest importance, Missouri's constitutional provisions for protecting property rights should protect everyone's rights equally. We should accept no less than “justice for all” whether they be rich or poor, home owners or businesses, urban or rural. And the state's awesome power of eminent domain should never be conveyed to private entities for their personal profit![4]

In a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court, Arnold v. Tourkakis, the city of Arnold had declared land blighted in order to make room for redevelopment. A dentist, Homer Tourkakis, fought the condemnation in court on the basis that despite the Kelo decision the Missouri Constitution says: “private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation, unless by consent of the owner.”

However the court ruled the Government “unlimited and practically absolute sovereign power of eminent domain." This prompted Tourkakis to sponsor the initiative and fight the court and state.[5]

Opposition

City officials in Maryville came out against the amendment, claiming it would limit local government protections instead relying on civil litigation to resolve nuisance, housing health and other concerns.

City council members unanimously approved July 28, 2008, to give $700 to help legally challenge the amendment following a presentation from Maryville City Attorney Doug Thomson.

According to a city document from Dan Wichmer, City Attorney in Springfield, and Gary Markenson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League, if approved, cities couldn’t adopt ordinances to remove structures based on blight, health or other issues.

Officials also couldn’t enforce building, fire, property maintenance and similar codes. That means city officials would have to go through civil court, meaning that “enforcement or abatement actions that now take five to 30 days to complete will take up to two years.”

Thomson said during Monday’s city council meeting that property owners would also have to go through civil court, not through city officials, if their neighbors are violating current city codes or ordinances.

Ron Calzone, chairman of Missouri Citizens for Property Rights, said Tuesday these arguments are a smokescreen against taking away officials’ ability to take private property.

“They’ve gotta trump up some kind of complaint about amendment,” Calzone said, “because when you’ve got something so black and white, so simple that it’s easily understood by a typical voter, they know they’ll lose.”

He said city officials can still create and enforce ordinances, codes and already he said residents can opt to sue in civil court regarding code or nuisance violations, also slowing possible abatement if there’s a violation.

“Basically, if it’s the city’s intention to protect the city from a slob, nothing’s changed,” he said. “If the real agenda is to take people’s property along with surrounding property by calling an area blighted, then everything changes.”


Officials for and against the amendment are awaiting a decision by Robin Carnahan, Missouri secretary of state, whether the matter will be on the November ballot for voters to decide.

She will make her decision Tuesday, Aug. 5 –– the same day as the primary election.[6]

See also

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References