Question 2 would limit eminent-domain seizures
October 12, 2006
A proposal on Nevada’s Nov. 7 ballot to curb the power of government to seize private property is part of a national effort that has relied heavily on a wealthy New York real estate investor who believes in limited government.
Howie Rich’s Americans for Limited Government advocacy group has kicked in more than 80 percent of the reported $217,078 in contributions for Question 2, which would amend the Nevada Constitution to restrict the government’s ability to take private land through eminent domain.
The plan, known as the People’s Initiative to Stop the Taking of Our Land, or PISTOL, has strong support, judging from a September poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It showed 60 percent voters supported the question while 20 percent opposed it and the rest were undecided.
The proposal survived a legal challenge but was narrowed in scope by the state Supreme Court. Even in its scaled-back form, opponents are warning that it would drive up government costs and also result in major losses of federal funding.
Terry Murphy of Nevadans for the Protection of Property Rights, which is fighting PISTOL, says a new analysis shows the state’s currently proposed road-building projects could jump in cost by several billion dollars if the plan is approved.
Murphy also says Las Vegas attorney Kermitt Waters, one of the main backers of the plan, stands to collect big legal fees by encouraging landowners to fight for more than the appraised value of property needed by government agencies.
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As for Rich, the libertarian who has funded Question 2, Murphy adds, “We don’t want him dictating public policy in Nevada.”
If Question 2 wins voter approval, it still would need to go to voters again in 2008.
In that case, Murphy says her group’s strategy would be to get lawmakers to pass a law in the 2007 legislative session that would help control eminent-domain powers but not create all the problems she sees in Question 2.
With a new law on the books, the opponents could then mount a strong campaign in the 2008 election cycle to try to block final approval of Question 2.
Don Chairez, the Republican attorney general candidate who has joined with Waters in pushing Question 2, says the plan’s critics are using scare tactics to try to defeat the measure.
While it would be a powerful tool in fighting unfair eminent domain proceedings, Chairez said Question 2 wouldn’t undermine the ability of local government to keep pace with demands created by growth – especially in booming Southern Nevada.
“All we want to do is to prevent land from being taken from someone and then turning it over to private developers,” Chairez said.”
National efforts to limit eminent-domain powers gained momentum after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a Connecticut city could seize homes and turn the land over to a private developer as part of a redevelopment project that included condos, a hotel and commercial space.
Voters in at least 10 states – California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon and South Carolina – will consider ballot measures next month that would bar the government from taking private property for another private use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under Nevada’s Question 2, property taken by eminent domain would have to be offered back at the original purchase price to its original owner if it’s not used within five years.
Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, a leading critic of Question 2, has said that would conflict with federal rules which require fair-market value to be paid in such cases.
He and other critics say the provision also would make it tough for government entities to save taxpayer dollars by buying property for future roads at current prices.