A state lawmaker wants changes in how the UW System uses its powers of eminent domain.
The UW Board of Regents would be required to take plans to seize private property before the Legislature’s finance committee, under legislation from State Representative Amy Vruwink (D-Milladore). The JFC would then have to hold a public hearing on the proposal and the UW could advance with an eminent domain action only after three-quarters of the 16 member panel approves the plan.
AUDIO: State Rep. Vruwink (:16)
The bill comes in response to a case involving the UW-Madison and a campus area bar. The Board started condemnation action after the owners had been negotiating with the university to sell the property for nearly two years. Vruwink says there needs to be a clear procedure in place to prevent similar cases in the future, even though the current measure would not impact a lawsuit filed by the owners of the bar.
UW officials are skeptical about the need for the proposal. System spokesman Dave Giroux says it’s unusual to single out the board, when many other state agencies use their eminent domain powers much more frequently without similar oversight.
AUDIO: UW spokesman Dave Giroux (:16)
In the past 40 years, Giroux says the Board of Regents has only approved eminent domain actions three times. Of those, two were settled before the process was complete. That’s compared to agencies such as the DOT, which may use eminent domain dozens of times each year.
Giroux says the proposal could result in property owners being able to name their price for property UW campuses want to buy, and it could force taxpayers to pay that price.