Indiana Considers Eminent Domain Reform

On January 12, the Indiana Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal, and Civil Matters passed Senate Bill 54, an important step in the fight against eminent domain abuse. This legislation would mandate that state universities seeking to acquire private business property compensate the business owner for estimated future earnings in addition to the traditional fair market value of the property. Senate Bill 54 is the brainchild of State Senator Doug Eckerty (R-Yorktown) and was prompted by the plight of a Muncie, Indiana businessman who found himself in competition with the biggest of all big businesses, the government.

For the last 26 years, Chris Hiatt has owned a small printing firm near Muncie’s Ball State University (BSU). Like many small businessmen in college towns, Mr. Hiatt is threatened by the insatiable appetite of Muncie’s largest employer. "Ball State competes with the hotel industry. They compete with the food and beverage industry. They compete with the housing market. They compete with the local economy in at least all those arenas and more. If they had their way, they would control the whole market,” Mr. Hiatt told the Muncie Star Press. Last year, BSU considered printing course materials at university printing facilities, a direct threat to Mr. Hiatt’s livelihood. Soon after, Mr. Hiatt was approached by university officials asking to purchase his firm. Luckily for Mr. Hiatt, BSU faculty objected to the proposed change in printing arrangements citing intellectual property concerns. Unfortunately, the threat of eminent domain abuse continues unabated.

Naturally, Indiana’s seven state universities oppose Senate Bill 54. BSU Executive Director of Public Relations Joan Todd succinctly summed up the view of government bureaucrats by stating, “Eminent domain by definition indicates that the public interest is at stake and is a first consideration.” Fortunately for Hoosiers, state legislators like Doug Eckerty understand that government’s primary duty is to uphold private property. While Senator Eckerty’s bill is worthy of passage, it is only a step in the right direction. Senate Bill 54 only applies to state universities. It should be expanded to include all government entities. While BSU is best known as David Letterman’s alma mater, government expropriation of private property is no laughing matter.