WASHINGTON – States and localities that abuse eminent domain powers would be denied federal economic development funds for two years under legislation approved Wednesday by House lawmakers.
The bill easily passed the Republican-controlled House on a vote of 353-65 with 127 Democrats voting yes.
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette was the lone member of the Colorado delegation to vote against the measure; voting yes were Republican Reps. Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, and Democratic Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis.
The Private Property Protection Act was based on the most infamous case of eminent domain to reach the Supreme Court — Kelo vs. the City of New London — that upheld local government’s decision to take private property under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause so that Pfizer could construct a plant in Connecticut.
Despite the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in 2005, the project that cost taxpayers $80 million never got off the ground and the condemned property is now a barren fields overrun by weeds, said Republican supporters of the bill.
“It is by no means an isolated case,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said on the House floor prior to the vote.
“Every day, Americans are forced to sit back and watch powerlessly as their homes, small businesses, family farms and churches are bulldozed to make way for high-end condos, shopping malls and other upscale developments,” Goodlatte said.
“No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching (property) up,” Goodlatte said.
The measure was authored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican, who said his intention was to stop abusive condemnation practices by the government.
“Should the government be able to close churches if it prefers malls?” Sensenbrenner asked. “The Private Property Protection Act is needed to restore all Americans the property rights the Supreme Court took away.”
Interestingly, a contentious eminent domain case ongoing in Summit County threatens to take away a private home to block any use of the land, not to make way for new development.
The county is seizing a home and ten acres of property belonging to Andy and Ceil Barrie in the White River National Forest to preserve it as open space, although the owners had no plans for development.
What the county and a federal government agency object to is the ATV required to reach the mountain retreat located at the other end of a mile-long mining road.
Summit County commissioners condemned the property in October after the Barries refused to sell, claiming that using a motor vehicle to reach the site threatened streams, tundra and lynx habitat.