Eminent domain bills gain ground


SALEM, Ohio – Federal and state legislation to limit eminent domain power is pushing forward.
Stateside. In Ohio, the Senate members unanimously passed a bill last week to create moratorium on eminent domain seizures that take private property for private development.
The moratorium would be effective through Dec. 31, 2006.
That legislation, Senate Bill 167, was co-sponsored by Sens. Kimberly Zurz, D-Green, and Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland.
Grendell calls the bill a delay to making hasty constitutional changes on the issue.
Amended. The bill also calls for a task force to study eminent domain in Ohio and make recommendations to the legislature for more permanent solutions.
The legislation was amended from its original form, reducing the task force from 25 to 24 members.
Other amendments include adding an emergency clause that would put the law into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, and a grandfather clause for eminent domain projects already approved.
The bill is currently before the House.
Rep. Bob Gibbs’ House Bill 331, companion legislation to Senate Bill 167, is still in committee in the House.
Federal. Federal legislation continues to gain ground as well.
Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla introduced the Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property Act of 2005, or the STOPP Act of 2005, in July.
It has 105 cosponsors.
The bill mandates that if a state or local government uses eminent domain to take land from one private entity to give to another for economic development purposes, then that state or local government will not be eligible to receive federal economic development assistance.
That legislation is in committee.
Amendments made in the agriculture committee Oct. 7 include allowing a state or local government to fix a violation by giving the property back to the original owner, and created a method to allow affected landowners to use the court system to enforce the STOPP Act.
“No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching up their home, farm, or business,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte during the markup session.
Testimony. In June, U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas penned bills to curb what they’re calling abuse of eminent domain.
In testimony before the Senate Sept. 20, Cornyn relayed statistics from The Institute for Justice.
He said the institute has documented more than 10,000 properties either seized or threatened with condemnation for private development in the five-year period between 1998 and 2002.
In testimony before the Senate judiciary committee, Cornyn gave a touching example of the impacts of eminent domain.
“In my home state of Texas – in the coastal town of Freeport – just hours after the Kelo decision, officials in Freeport began legal filings to seize some waterfront businesses (two seafood companies) to make way for others (an $8 million private boat marina).
“I firmly believe that legislative action is appropriate and necessary.”
Sensenbrenner’s bill has garnered the support of 134 other federal legislators, and Cornyn’s has 28 cosponsors.
Both bills are in committee.
Why now? The interest in eminent domain legislation comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London, which gave private developers in New London, Conn., permission to seize individual homes through eminent domain in order to build commercial properties.
That decision drew immediate backlash from federal and state lawmakers and resulted in current and pending legislation.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)


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