Federal Eminent Domain Reform Bill Gets Hearing

House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution
Hearing on H.R. 1433:  “Private Property Rights Protection Act”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at 4 p.m.
Rayburn House Office Building
Room 2141
Washington, D.C.

In an increasingly partisan nation, one issue unites Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives:  reforming eminent domain laws to end the use of public power for private gain.  A bipartisan bill being considered in Congress right now would greatly discourage this abuse of power by stripping federal funding from any municipality that condemns private property for private development.  This would finally provide some federal protection for the property rights of all Americans, especially the poorest and most-vulnerable, from the alliance of land-hungry developers and tax-hungry government officials.

H.R. 1433 (the “Private Property Rights Protection Act”) cosponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA), prohibits states and municipalities from using eminent domain for private development if they have received federal economic development funds.  It also prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development, which is defined as taking private property and transferring it to another private person to increase tax revenue, jobs or general economic growth.  A nearly identical bill that was introduced immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Kelo v. City of New London passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 376-38, with the Senate never voting on passage.

Importantly, the bill would still allow eminent domain for traditional public uses like public utilities, roads and post offices, and would also allow local officials to remove properties that pose an immediate threat to public health and safety and put abandoned property to productive use.

Among those who will testify in favor of H.R. 1433 are Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which litigated in defense of homeowners in New London, Conn., in the Kelo case, and Lori Ann Vendetti, a homeowner from Long Branch, N.J., who spent years battling to save her home and her parents’ home from condemnation for a high-end condominium project.

Berliner will tell the Committee:  “In this economy, Congress does not need to be sending scarce economic development funds to projects that not only abuse eminent domain and strip hard-working, tax-paying homeowners and small businesses of their constitutional rights, but that may ultimately fail.  Let New London be a lesson:  After $80 million in taxpayer money spent, years tied up in litigation and a disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the neighborhood is now a barren field home to nothing but feral cats.  The developer abandoned the project, and Pfizer—whom the project was intended to benefit—also left New London.”

It’s very important that elected officials in Washington hear from their constituents.  Click here to find out who represents you, and let them know you support eminent domain reform.