Using Voter Initiative for Eminent Domain Reform (but not in Rhode Island)

Opponents of voter initiative say it’s a bad idea because it somehow gives undue influence to special interests. According to an article from Monday’s USA Today, however, voters in eleven states have the opportunity to use voter initiative protect themselves from special interests that might use governmental processes to seize their homes

Eleven states are giving voters their first chance this fall to override last year’s Supreme Court ruling that allows local governments seeking more tax revenue to seize private property and give it to developers.
Thirty state legislatures have passed laws or constitutional amendments since June 2005 to negate or limit the ruling’s effect in their states. Voting 5-4, the high court said the Constitution permits state and local governments to condemn a home through eminent domain powers so developers can build hotels, offices or retail centers on the site.
The eminent domain initiatives provide support for the arguments that voter initiative proponents have been making…
  • Special interests often, if not always, have more influence on the legislature than they do on the electorate as a whole, and
  • Voter initiative can be used to pass laws popular with and in the interest of the general public that cannot get through the legislature because of special interest influence or lack of legislative interest.
Rhode Island’s legislature failed to pass eminent domain reform this year, despite the introduction of a number of bills addressing the subject. Unfortunately, Rhode Island doesn’t have a voter initiative process that can be used to bypass the legislature (the implementation of voter initiative was also blocked by the legislature this year). Without voter initiative, the only choice for Rhode Islanders who want to see eminent domain reform passed is to vote out the legislators who refuse to make it a priority.

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