State lawmakers across the country are starting to seize upon the overwhelming sense of public outrage at the Supreme Court's Kelo vs. New London decision to take action on eminent domain reform. The Kelo decision upheld the ability of governments to exercise the power of eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes.
First, the Houston Chronicle reports today that eminent domain reform may be coming to Texas:
- Gov. Rick Perry, responding to concerns over a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed a municipality's right to seize private property for economic development, on Friday added the eminent domain issue to the special session's agenda.
"The Supreme Court's ruling would allow government to condemn your family's home, bulldoze it and build a new shopping mall or some other kind of economic development project simply to generate more tax revenue," Perry said in expanding the session's agenda.
"I agree with an overwhelming majority of lawmakers and citizens who believe that this starts us down a slippery slope that will lead to the erosion of Texans' rights," he added.
Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, said the Texas Senate on Monday could take up his Senate Bill 62 to limit government from using eminent domain to benefit private developers. If the bill passes the House and Senate with a two-thirds vote before the session ends July 20 and gains the governor's signature, it will take effect immediately, Janek said.
Janek's bill would allow cities to seize private property for a commercial project only if the land taken qualifies as a slum or blighted area that is harmful to society. However, the term "harm" does not include an area that is simply poor or depressed.
Here's an excerpt from the key portion of SB 62:
- [...] A governmental or private entity may not take private property through the use of eminent domain if the taking:
(1) confers a private benefit on a particular private party through the use of the property;
(2) is for a public use that is merely a pretext to confer a private benefit on a particular private party; or
(3) is for economic development purposes, unless the economic development is a secondary purpose resulting from
municipal community development or municipal urban renewal activities [...] to eliminate an existing affirmative harm on society from slum or blighted areas.
You can monitor the bill's progress here. It's good to see that Gov. Perry did an about-face on this issue, as it was reported as recently as July 5th that he would not be adding this issue to the special session until the legislature passed public school funding reforms and a tax plan to pay for them and lower property taxes.
Moving on to Florida, a review of the state's eminent domain statutes is now on the agenda:
- Within a day of the June 23 ruling, Florida House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, chose Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, to chair a select House committee to review Florida's Constitution and statutes governing eminent domain, vowing to ensure private property rights in Florida are protected.
"(The committee's) task will be to identify any areas of ambiguity and recommend appropriate changes to make sure the unfortunate situation we've seen in Connecticut is not repeated in the state of Florida," says Bense.
State Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, applauded Bense's action, saying the Senate should do the same. "Local governments should never use eminent domain in a capricious manner. It is supposed to be a tool of last resort," notes Constantine.
Even Gov. Jeb Bush has made eminent domain reform a priority.
And from Georgia:
- Gov. Sonny Perdue and top legislative leaders promised Thursday to take any action necessary to protect private property rights in Georgia following a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving local governments broad power to seize property for economic development purposes.
"This is a kitchen table issue," Perdue declared in a news conference with House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, and others. "The people of Georgia want to be sure they can still hold onto their kitchen tables," he said.
Perdue said he has instructed his legal team to examine current Georgia law to see what, if any, fixes are needed, up to and including a constitutional amendment.
A Senate committee also has been appointed to look into the question.
Finally, from Alaska:
- A Supreme Court decision last week that will give governments broader rights to take private property has stirred up several state and local lawmakers in Anchorage, who are already drafting legislation they say would protect private-property owners in Alaska. State Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said the decision permits "judicial thievery."
"I read about the case in the newspaper and was actually appalled," said Anchorage Assemblywoman Janice Shamberg.
Shamberg and Assemblyman Allan Tesche held a news conference Monday at City Hall to announce they are introducing an ordinance at today's Assembly meeting to make sure the taking of private property in Anchorage is limited to land that will actually be used by the municipality or the public.
Reps. Lynn and Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said in a news release on Friday that they plan to introduce bills to protect private property owners throughout Alaska from government takings such as the one approved for New London.