Today Kansas Governor Sam Brownback vetoed Senate Bill 338. As explained by John Todd, this bill unnecessarily and dangerously increased the power of cities over private property rights. Thank you to the governor for understanding the harm of this bill and acting appropriately. Most of all, thank you to John Todd for recognizing the bill’s danger, for his committee testimony, and for his tireless work in helping inform the governor and his staff about this bill.
Following, the governor’s veto message:
The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition. It has long been considered essential to our basic understanding of civil and political rights. Property rights serve as a foundation to our most basic personal liberties. One of government’s primary purposes is to protect the property rights of individuals.
The purpose of Senate Bill 338, to help create safer communities, is laudable. However, in this noble attempt, the statute as written takes a step too far. The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.
Throughout the country, we have seen serious abuse where government has broadened the scope of eminent domain, especially when private development is involved. The use of eminent domain for private economic development should be limited in use, not expanded. Senate Bill 338 opens the door for serious abuse in Kansas. Governmental authority to take property from one private citizen and give it to another private citizen should be limited, but this bill would have the effect of expanding such authority without adequate safeguards.
Kansans from across the political spectrum contacted me to discuss their concerns that this bill will disparately impact low income and minority neighborhoods. The potential for abuse of this new statutory process cannot be ignored. Government should protect property rights and ensure that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which every citizen is entitled.
There is a need to address the ability of municipalities and local communities to effectively maintain neighborhoods for public safety. However, Senate Bill 338 does much more. Though I am vetoing this bill, I would welcome legislation that empowers local communities to respond to blight and abandoned property that does not open the door to abuse of the fundamental rights of free people.