- Each piece of property must be a threat to public health and safety to be condemned for blight.
- Condemnations for industrial parks and port facilities are forbidden on residential property.
In the midst of a heart-breaking year, Louisiana’s citizens were more aware than ever of the fundamental importance of having homes, businesses, and houses of worship that cannot be taken away at the whim of a government official. Even as rumors swirled around the state that large sections of New Orleans and the surrounding areas might be taken away from their rightful owners because of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the people of the state voted to make sure that the government had clear limits on how it could use eminent domain in the wake of the storms.
Senate Bill No. 1, ratified by Louisiana’s voters on September 30, 2006, amended the state constitution to specifically prohibit the taking of private property for a private use. Under the amendment’s terms—and with a few notable exceptions—localities are prohibited from condemning private property merely to generate taxes or jobs. Instead, the state’s blight laws must now ensure that eminent domain can only be used for the removal of a threat to public health and safety caused by a particular property. All economic development and urban renewal laws currently on the Louisiana books must conform to the limitations imposed by SB 1. The new amendment does not address the power of municipalities to use eminent domain for the benefit of industrial parks since that is specifically permitted in another provision of the Louisiana Constitution. It does, however, provide that a person’s home cannot be taken for an industrial park or even for a public port facility.
House Bill 707 provides a “right of first refusal,” requiring the government to offer any condemned property it no longer needs back to the original owner before selling it to any other private party.
The protections adopted in Louisiana’s amendments are absolutely vital to ensure that citizens who are still trying to rebuild the homes, businesses, and communities shattered by the hurricanes will not have to face the additional trauma of losing those uniquely important places that they can call their own. As long as it is not a threat to the public health and safety, property is protected by the Louisiana Constitution from the greedy ambitions of those developers whose vision of New Orleans doesn’t include its long-time residents.