Bill prohibits feds from using eminent domain for economic development

Mar 2, 2012

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domain law to take over the property of several homeowners for commercial use.

Justices said the court had always given local policymakers latitude in determining the legitimate public interests of their area.

Eminent domain has also been used to obtain property needed for highways, airports or schools.

H.R. 1443 is the third official act in response to the 2005 Supreme Court decision taken by the House. In 2005, the House passed both a resolution of disapproval of the decision (H. Res. 340) and a bill (H.R. 4128) similar to H.R. 1443. The legislation will now move to the U.S. Senate.

Sensenbrenner first introduced a version of this bill after the 2005 Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. In that case, the court voted 5-4 that “economic development” can be a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, justifying the government’s taking of private property and giving it to a private business for use in the interest of creating a more lucrative tax base. “As a result of this ruling, the federal government’s power of eminent domain has become almost limitless, providing citizens with few means to protect their property,” Sensenbrenner says.

Sensenbrenner pointed out to the House that farmers in his state of Wisconsin were extremely vulnerable to the ruling. “The fair market value of farmland is less than residential or commercial property, which means it doesn’t generate as much property tax as homes or offices. Uncle Sam can condemn one family’s home only because another private entity would pay more tax revenue,” he said.

Several states have passed legislation that limits the power of eminent domain, and the supreme courts of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio have barred the practice under their state constitutions.

“The Private Property Rights Restoration Act will provide American citizens in every state with the means to protect their private property from exceedingly unsubstantiated claims of eminent domain. Under the legislation, if a state or political subdivision of a state uses its eminent domain power to transfer private property to other private parties for economic development, the state is ineligible to receive federal economic development funds for two fiscal years following a judicial determination that the law has been violated. Additionally, the bill prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development purposes,” Sensenbrenner said.

H.R. 1443 is the third official act in response to the Kelo decision taken by the House of Representatives since the Supreme Court decided the case.

The only lawmaker to voice opposition to the legislation was Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. He said that since the Kelo decision, more than 40 states have taken steps to amend their eminent domain laws to prevent abuses and “Congress should not now come charging in after seven years of work and presume to sit as a national zoning board.”

He also noted that the bill exempts the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from the eminent domain restrictions.

In 2005, the House passed both a resolution of disapproval of the decision (H.

Res. 340) and H.R. 4128, a bill similar to H.R. 1443, but the bill did not advance in the Senate. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor