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House Votes to Limit Eminent Domain

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I see this as both a good and an evil :? It is good in that it may protect private property rights and keep corporate dollars from acquiring private citizens property :) But it is another case of Federal Government getting bigger and more powerful- again using the threat of withholding Federal Funds to tell States what to do and usurp more states rights :( .......

U.S. House Votes to Limit Government Power to Take Property

November 4, 2005

By Jay Newton-Small [email protected]



The U.S. House of Representatives voted to bolster private-property rights by limiting local governments' power to seize land for economic development.

The legislation -- H.R. 3135 -- passed 376-38 yesterday (*Roll no. 568) would allow the withholding of federal money from local governments that use their "eminent domain'' power to take land for purposes such as shopping malls and office parks.

The measure was proposed after the Supreme Court said June 23 that New London, Connecticut, could force a group of homeowners off their land to make room for new development, as long as the homeowners were compensated.

The measure would "restore Americans' property rights the Supreme Court took away,'' Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and the chief sponsor, said during floor debate.

"Under this legislation there is a clear connection between the federal funds that would be denied and the abuse Congress is intending to prevent.''

The measure, if approved by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush, would be a victory for property-rights advocates. The June high court decision said the Constitution allows New London to pursue its plan for a private development adjacent to a new research headquarters built by Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drugmaker.

The city said building a luxury hotel and condominiums would help reverse decades of economic decline.

Pfizer wasn't involved in the high court case, and the company acquired its land by purchasing it without government use of eminent domain.

Two Years

The House measure would give landowners leverage to resist seizure of their property.

It would withhold federal economic development funds for two years from states and localities when a court has allowed the government to use eminent domain to take someone's property and stipulated that the land was being seized for economic development.

The measure would let local governments continue to claim property and land for public roads, hospitals or military bases. It would also permit seizure of property to protect public health and safety. The measure would take effect a year after its enactment and wouldn't be retroactive.

"Under the guise of economic development, private property is being taken and transferred to another private owner so long as the new owner uses the property in a way that the government deems more beneficial,'' said Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat. "Today I'm pleased to see that we take up a response on both sides of the aisle.''

Opponents said the proposal would go too far in usurping local control.

"You were elected to the U.S. Congress and not to local city councils,'' said Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who opposed the measure.

Fifth Amendment

The Supreme Court based its ruling on the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which requires governments to make "just compensation'' when seizing private property for "public use.''

Some property owners in the New London neighborhood involved in the lawsuit refused to sell, arguing that public use required more than the possibility of economic revitalization.

The Supreme Court said the proposed development qualified as a public use. The court also said its ruling left room for states to enact their own restrictions on the use of eminent domain.

The Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that represented seven property owners in the Connecticut case, applauded the House vote.

The legislation "serves to reassure every American that federal dollars -- their own money -- won't be used to kick them off their land,'' said Dana Berliner, an attorney for the group.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said in an e-mailed statement the administration "looks forward to working with both houses of Congress'' to protect the rights of property owners.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a similar measure, though no timetable for action has been announced.

Copyright 2005, Bloomberg.


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