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Ohio lawmakers want to reform eminent domain laws, give more protections to farmers

Proponents of H.B. 64 say the bill would give landowners more protections. Although opponents say it could thwart economic development and public projects.
Alejandro Figueroa
/
WYSO
Proponents of H.B. 64 say the bill would give landowners more protections. Although opponents say it could thwart economic development and public projects.

An Ohio House bill proposes giving property owners, especially farmers, more protections when their land is taken by a government agency through eminent domain. Opponents believe it could hinder economic development.

Through eminent domain, a government body forces the sale of private land for public use for utility projects, highways, roads and in Ohio, recreational bike and hiking trails. In turn, landowners must be fairly compensated for the land.

House Bill 64, introduced by Rep. Rodney Creech, (R-West Alexandria) and Rep. Darrell Kick, (R-Loudonville), would ban the use of eminent domain for trails. It would give landowners the ability to challenge the taking of their property, penalize coercive actions by government agencies, grant landowners mandatory fees for successful defense appeals and make the court process easier.

Something Brandon Kern, the senior director of state and national policy at the Ohio Farm Bureau, said can be burdensome for farmers.

“What we hear from landowners right now is that the process is really kind of stacked against them in the sense that it is so costly and is so convoluted and long and drawn out that it can be overwhelming.” Kern said.

In a joint House committee testimony, Rep. Creech said the bill does not seek to eliminate eminent domain in Ohio but rather reform the process and provide more clarity for landowners.

“As multi-generational land owners, protection of farmland and its owners has always been an important issue. While we believe that eminent domain is an important tool when utilized correctly, it has always been a concern as to how it is used,” Creech said. “This bill seeks to ensure that landowners have all of the necessary tools at their disposal in order to protect their own interests.”

Opponents of the bill, like Kent Scarrett, director of the Ohio Municipal League, said eminent domain rarely becomes an issue in most projects and that the bill is an overreach by state government on local home rule authority

“This is a continuation of preemption and the violation of home rule authorities that Ohio municipalities are granted through Article 19 of the Ohio Constitution and that we, as the Municipal League and our members, continue to defend against the encroachment of state government.” Scarrett said.

At a recent House hearing, over two dozen cities and organizations opposed the bill, including the City of Cincinnati, the Ohio Mayor's Alliance and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

At the hearing, Sheryl Long, Cincinnati’s City Manager, said the bill would hinder public projects and increase costs.

“H.B. 64 will significantly reduce the ability of local governments to provide safe, dependable, and accessible infrastructure by disincentivizing the municipality to replace and maintain infrastructure due to the substantial increase in cost and risk if a project requires acquisition of private property.” Long said.

For now, the bill is still in the Civil Justice House committee, it’s unclear when it will be voted out of committee and sent to the House.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Email: afigueroa@wyso.org
Phone: 937-917-5943