When Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed Senate Bill 338 (colloquially known as the “blight bill”) in April 2016, his office claimed he was “defending the bedrock principles of individual liberty and private property rights.” In a statement, Brownback said government has a responsibility to “protect property rights and ensure the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which every citizen is entitled.”

But aren’t citizens also entitled to live in safe neighborhoods? Doesn’t the government have a responsibility to make sure abandoned buildings don’t become magnets for illegal activity in our community? …

Brownback may well be concerned about the protection of citizens’ rights, but he should recognize that the rights of irresponsible property owners aren’t the only ones at issue.

In April 2017, the Urban Institute published a report on the effect urban blight has on public health. In a section about abandoned properties, researchers explain that “vacant properties and neighborhoods with persistent blight create a climate of social and psychological disorder that attracts criminal activity and violence and becomes a breeding ground for vermin.”

These factors are associated with “mental distress … higher rates of chronic illness … stunted brain and physical development; and mass retreat of area residents into unhealthy eating and exercise habits.” …

Brownback says Kansans are concerned that the blight bill “will disparately impact low-income and minority neighborhoods,” but the evidence is clear: These neighborhoods suffer far more from the abandoned property that continues to fester in their midst.

Under current state law, a residential property isn’t considered abandoned until it has been vacant for 90 days and the owner hasn’t paid property taxes for two years (but all he or she has to do is make a single payment and the deadline is extended). SB 338 would have changed the definition of “abandoned” to encompass properties that have been unoccupied for a year and are having a negative impact on their neighborhoods. …

There’s no reason for the residents of blighted neighborhoods in Topeka and across the state to continue suffering from the negligence of property owners who don’t care how much damage they’re causing.

— The Topeka Capital-Journal