TRENTON - A proposal to force local governments to prove why they must seize private property for use in a development project was blasted yesterday by a key Senate leader.

Public Advocate Ronald Chen had told a Senate budget panel that local governments should be required to document why private property targeted for redevelopment is considered blighted. He said the burden of proof now falls on the property owners, who often lack resources and information.

"What that often encourages, quite frankly, is municipalities not doing the job they should do in making their case," Chen said. He said local governments would have no problem proving a property is blighted, if that is indeed the case.

"I don't believe . . . the proposition that land is blighted simply because the state believes it can be put to a better use," Chen said.

But Senate Majority Leader Bernard F. Kenny Jr. (D., Hudson), disagreed, arguing that eminent domain has long been used, especially by urban areas, to promote redevelopment.

Kenny said Chen's proposal would "create a litigation nightmare in the state that will paralyze redevelopment."

Eminent domain has been a contentious issue in New Jersey since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 allowed seizing homes to make way for a commercial use. New Jersey has several fights over it, including plans by Long Branch to take homes for beachfront redevelopment.

Legislators have discussed, and Chen has recommended, changes to restrict the use of eminent domain, but nothing has become law.

Sen. Diane B. Allen (R., Burlington) welcomed Chen's advocacy and proposed a two-year moratorium on eminent domain. "The practice of seizing property that is modest to replace it with high-priced property is immoral and must be stopped," she said.