Louisiana Sends Eminent Domain Reform to Voters

PRESS RELEASE: June 7, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.— Senate Bill No. 1, which amends the State Constitution to prohibit the taking of private property for a private use, is now going to the voters in November after approval by the Louisiana legislature.  Under the amendment, localities will be prohibited from condemning private property merely to generate taxes or jobs.  It will also reform the State’s blight laws to 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 would be required to conform to the limitations required by SB 1.

“This is solid eminent domain reform for Louisiana,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  “Voters now have the opportunity to protect their homes, businesses, farms and places of worship from being taken and given to somebody else.  SB 1 even ensures that so-called blight laws are not used as a backdoor way of using eminent domain for private profit.”

IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner agreed and added, “A constitutional amendment is unambiguously the most effective way to stop eminent domain abuse.  Louisianans’ fundamental right to keep what they rightfully own will no longer be subject to the whim of tax-hungry bureaucrats and land-hungry developers.”

“We are confident that the citizens of Louisiana will overwhelmingly approve this amendment,” said Steven Anderson, the coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the Institute’s grassroots advocacy project.  “Some developers and powerful local officials may be determined to preserve their eminent domain powers for private profit, but the average voter is wholeheartedly opposed to it.  Louisianans clearly understand that people’s property should not be expropriated by the government just because somebody else wants it.”

Since Kelo, legislators in 47 states and the U.S. Congress have introduced, considered or passed eminent domain reform.  Louisiana joins Michigan, New Hampshire and Georgia in reforming condemnation laws in the form of a constitutional amendment.

SB 1 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.  However, SB 1 does provide that a person’s home cannot be taken for an industrial park or even for a public port facility.  According to Bullock, “It is disappointing that eminent domain can still be used for industrial parks in Louisiana, but a vast majority of eminent domain abuse today occurs for the building of retail businesses and condominium developments.”

Bullock concluded, “There’s no doubt the rebuilding of New Orleans is on everybody’s mind.  This amendment strikes the right balance.  The government can take property that actually endangers public health and safety.  It’s just prohibited from taking perfectly fine homes and businesses for grand planning schemes.”