March 30, 2006

An Eminent Domain and Tax-Lien Reform Update from Senator Leo Blais

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee voted to hold the tax-lien and eminent domain reform bills under consideration for further study. This morning, I spoke with Senator Leo Blais (R-Coventry/Foster/Scituate), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, about the future prospects of the reform bills.

I asked Senator Blais if he believed that the state legislature was serious about passing eminent domain and tax-lien reforms this session. He answered that he believes that public reactions to the United States Supreme Court's Kelo decision and to the Madeline Walker incident have “created a sentiment in the building for taking a hard look” at these two issues.

I asked about what the implications of “holding a bill for further study” were. Senator Blais answered that further study gives sponsors of different bills addressing the same topic a chance to agree on language they can all live with. Then, a bill can be redrafted or a substitute can be introduced.

I asked about Governor Carcieri’s eminent domain bill, and the fact that it protects only owner-occupied residential properties, while several other bills protect all properties, though they make other kinds of exceptions. Senator Blais answered that how the different proposed exceptions fit into the larger issues regarding eminent domain is what is being debated in the assembly.

Finally, I asked about the the tax-lien reform bills (Senator Blais is the Senate sponsor of the Governor‘s version). He answered that, currently, there are no curbs on what triggers a tax-lien sale. The Governor’s bill would remedy this by setting up a corporation under the Rhode Island Housing and Finance Mortgage Corporation to deal with tax-lien issues. Senator Blais said that he will be sitting down with Senator Metts (the primary sponsor of the other tax-lien reform bill pending in the Senate) and with representatives from the Governor’s office to work on a bill that can hopefully be passed by the end of the session.