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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Judiciary Committee|Tackles Eminent Domain

WASHINGTON (CN) - The House Judiciary Committee amended the Private Property Rights Protection Act so that states that use eminent domain to seize land for private development can be penalized - especially in instances where a violation "has a disproportionately high impact on the poor or minorities."

"These are very good amendments. They improve the bill and I support them," said the bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

The amendments were introduced by Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a former member of the Houston City Council of Houston, who said she's seen "the disparities in the utilization of eminent domain."

The bipartisan bill, introduced as H.R. 1433 by Reps. Sensenbrenner and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is an answer to U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, a 5-4 decision giving the government the power to use eminent domain to transfer land from one private property owner to another to further economic development.

Though the amended bill prohibits states and municipalities from using eminent domain for private development, it continues to allow states to seize land for public use.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced amendments that were met with vocal opposition by Sensenbrenner, and were quickly extinguished.

"What the bill says is that if the government ... seizes a property and uses it within seven years for a private economic development purpose, then for seven years after that use the former property owner can sue the state or city," Nadler said. "If they win, do they get the property back? No. Do they get any economic compensation? No."

Nadler introduced an amendment that would have given property owners the right to seek damages.

"All that happens is that the city forfeits two years of economic aid, so the land owner has no incentive to sue in the first place," Nadler said. "So unless he's just an S.O.B. who really hates the city, why bother?"

Sensenbrenner extinguished the amendment, arguing that giving property owners monetary damages in such cases could violate the Eleventh Amendment.

Quigley's amendment sought to compel environmental impact reports when land is taken for pipelines. Sensenbrenner quashed that too, saying the bill is not meant to stop the taking of land for utility piping, which has traditionally been protected by the Fifth Amendment.

"Moreover, this amendment would needlessly raise energy costs by imposing extraneous regulations on the construction of needed energy pipelines that have nothing to do with deterring eminent domain abuse," he read from a prepared opposition.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., applauded the bipartisanship of the bill and the approved amendments, complimenting its Republican sponsor's efforts - then introduced a bit of partisanship.

"Mr. Sensenbrenner's right. This is about public use," Cohen said. "Pipelines are public use and I tend to agree with his argument. But I would urge the Republicans on that side to understand that it was more irrelevant when it was standing in the way of middle class tax breaks, unemployment compensation extension for the most needy and vulnerable and hurt people in our society and between seniors needing their doctors to treat them for diseases that Medicare pays for."

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