Property under attack in Kansas

Local governments in Kansas are again seeking expanded power to seize property.

In Kansas, officials of many city governments feel they don’t have enough power to deal with blight. This year, as in years past, there is legislation to expand the power of cities to seize property. 1 2

John Todd, along with Paul Soutar, made a video to explain the bill and the surrounding issues. It’s just five minutes in length. View it below, or click here to view at YouTube. Todd’s written testimony to the Kansas Legisalture has photographs and examples. It may be viewed here.

Background

Presently, tools are in place. Cities already have much power to deal with blight and related problems. Last year Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted in favor of expanding cities’ powers. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people. 3

The Governor’s veto. A similar bill passed the legislature in 2016. Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.” 4

The Governor’s veto provoked a response from Wichita government officials. It let us know that they are not as respectful of fundamental rights as was Brownback. 5

For example, in remarks from the bench, Wichita City Council Member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) said there is no intent to be “aggressive in taking people’s property.” 6 But expanding the power of government — aggression, in other word — is what the bill does. Otherwise, why the need for the bill with its new methods and powers of taking property?

And once government is granted new powers, government nearly always finds ways to expand the power and put it to new uses. Even if we believe Meitzner — and we should not — he will not always be in office. Others will follow him who may not claim to be so wise and restrained in the use of government power.

Government expands and liberty recedes. Government continuously seeks new ways to expand its powers through enabling concepts like blight. Did you know the entire suburban town of Andover is blighted? 7 Across the country, when governments find they can take property with novel and creative interpretations of blight, they do so. 8

It’s easy to sense the frustration of government officials like Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell. In his remarks, he asked opponents of SB 338 “what they would do” when confronted with blight. That is a weak argument, but is advanced nonetheless. Everyone has the right — the duty — to oppose bad legislation even if they do not have an alternate solution. Just because someone doesn’t have a solution, that doesn’t mean their criticism is not valid. This is especially true in this matter, as cities already have many tools to deal with blight.


Notes

  1. Kansas Legislature. HB 2506. Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities. Available at http://kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2506/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Power of Kansas cities to take property may be expanded. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/power-kansas-cities-take-property-may-expanded/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Kansas, the war on blight continues. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-war-blight-continues/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Governor Brownback steps up for property rights. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/governor-brownback-steps-property-rights/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/wichita-revealing-discussion-property-rights/.
  6. Video. Wichita City Council speaks on blight. Available at wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-city-council-speaks-blight/.
  7. Weeks, B. (2012). Andover, a Kansas city overtaken by blight. Voice For Liberty in Wichita. Available at wichitaliberty.org/economics/andover-a-kansas-city-overtaken-by-blight/.
  8. Nicole Gelinas, Eminent Domain as Central Planning. (2015). City Journal. Available at www.city-journal.org/html/eminent-domain-central-planning-13253.html.

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