Georgia Enacts Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform

But Companion Constitutional Amendment Provides Little Enhanced Protection

PRESS RELEASE: April 4, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Today, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will sign into law House Bill 1313, legislation that significantly tightens the definition of “blight” in the State’s eminent domain laws.  The bill creates objective standards of blight and requires that individual parcels, as opposed to areas, be designated as “blighted” in order to be subject to condemnations for private development.  It emphasizes, “Property shall not be deemed blighted because of esthetic conditions.”  The bill also provides that economic development is not a “public use” that justifies the use of eminent domain.

“This bill provides strong protections for homes and businesses against the abuse of eminent domain for private development,” said Institute for Justice attorney Bert Gall.  “Under Georgia law, it is now the government’s burden to show that a piece of property is ‘blighted.’  Essentially, a property has to be a danger to public health or safety to face the government’s wrecking ball.  That’s a big step forward because the old definition of ‘blight’ was so broad and vague that it could have applied to practically every neighborhood in the state.”

With the passage of this bill, property can only be designated “blighted” if it meets two of six objective factors and “is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, or crime in the immediate proximity of the property.”

IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo v. City of New London before the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “It is clear that in passing HB 1313, Georgia legislators heeded the public’s call for real reform.  ‘Blight’ is no longer whatever a developer or bureaucrat says it is.”

Since Kelo, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming to curb the abuse of eminent domain. Georgia joins South Dakota, Indiana and Wisconsin as the latest to enact reform.

Gov. Perdue will also sign House Resolution 1306, a constitutional amendment that, if approved by the voters, will require a vote by elected officials to occur before eminent domain is used for redevelopment.  Unfortunately, the amendment leaves the definition of “public use” to legislative discretion.

“Unfortunately, this constitutional amendment does not provide meaningful constitutional reform,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who authored the first-ever state-by-state study of eminent domain abuse in which she documented more than 10,000 instances of eminent domain for private gain from 1998 through 2002. “The point of constitutional protection is not to leave fundamental rights in the hands of legislators.  Now, planners and developers will unleash their lobbyists for years to come to press the Legislature to change the legal definition of public use.  Georgians still need real constitutional reform so that they can have permanent protection against eminent domain abuse.”

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