WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte today chaired the first Congressional markup of eminent domain legislation to address a recent controversial Supreme Court decision. H.R. 3405, the “Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property (STOPP) Act of 2005,” was introduced with bipartisan support in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London granting local governments expanded eminent domain authority.
“Private ownership of property is vital to our freedom and prosperity, and is one of the most fundamental principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution; however, the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London is a step in the opposite direction. This appalling ruling expands the ability of state and local governments to exercise eminent domain powers to seize property under the guise of “economic development” when the “public use” is as incidental as generating tax revenues or creating jobs, even in situations where the government takes property from one private individual and gives it to another private entity,” said Goodlatte.
Specifically, H.R. 3405 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 locality will not be eligible to receive federal economic development assistance. In addition, this legislation will eliminate federal economic development funding for a government if it fails to provide the relocation costs of persons displaced by the use of eminent domain power for economic development purposes.
“Protecting the private property rights of landowners is a responsibility of federal, state and local government officials. The legislation considered today encourages better decisions about when to use the power of eminent domain,” said Ranking Member Collin Peterson.
The committee adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute offered by Goodlatte, Peterson, Representatives Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Stephanie Herseth (D-SD) to further clarify the prohibitions of the STOPP Act. The amendment limits the duration of the prohibition to two years for each violation and allows a state or local government to cure the violation by giving the property back to the original owner. The Committee agreed to the amendment by a vote of 40-1.
The amendment also broadens the prohibition by preventing all private-to-private transfers of property unless they fit within the exceptions specified in the bill, regardless of whether the private-to-private transfer was for economic development purposes. The amendment also creates a private right of action to allow affected landowners to use the court system to enforce the STOPP Act.
“The nation’s founding fathers realized the fundamental importance of property rights when they codified the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires that private property shall not be taken “for public use, without just compensation. No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching up their home, farm, or business and I am committed to ensuring that our rights are protected as the founders intended,” said Goodlatte.