The battle over whether local municipalities should have the power to seize private property may be winding down in Illinois.
Last week, the state House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would overhaul the state’s eminent domain law by setting higher standards for municipalities that want to seize land for private redevelopment, such as shopping malls.
It also would require governments to increase the compensation they offer to property owners when land is taken for both private and public use, including roads and schools.
“What we’ve created is an eminent domain act that is one complete statute…where people can go and understand what their rights are,” said state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), who wrote the first draft of the bill. The measure passed 85-6 on April 18.
Garrett said she introduced the bill after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that broadened the power of local governments to take property and transfer it to private developers for economic growth. That decision allowed states to determine their own eminent domain statutes, and many states have restricted their laws in the aftermath, she said.
Despite its passage in the General Assembly, the bill was met with strong opposition from local municipalities, arguing that it poses a threat to their urban development plans. A number of cities, including Chicago, successfully lobbied to amend the bill.
The revised bill sets higher standards for governments seizing private property. The government must prove the property is essential for a successful development project and provide a substantive renewal plan for the area.
In addition, when governments seize property for either private or public use, they are required to cover homeowners’ relocation costs and, in some cases, their attorney’s fees if the owners choose to fight the seizure.
Garrett said she agreed with the revisions. “We did not want to deter economic development, so the difficult thing about this [bill] is striking that balance between economic needs and property owners’ rights,” she said.