South Dakota Enacts Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform

First State to Tackle the ‘Heart of the Issue’

PRESS RELEASE: February 27, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—This month, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed into law HB 1080, prohibiting government agencies from seizing private property by eminent domain “for transfer to any private person, nongovernmental entity, or other public-private business entity.”  The act—which passed the House by a vote of 67-1 and the Senate unanimously—also stipulates that after seven years, if condemned land is not used for the purpose for which it was acquired, the original owner has right of first refusal to buy the property at current fair market price.

“This is the first state bill signed into law that gets right at the heart of the issue,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which is the nation’s leading legal advocates against eminent domain abuse. “It addresses the most fundamental question: whether it is right for the government to take property from one person and give it to another private party.  South Dakota lawmakers hit the answer right on the mark:  it is wrong and should be prohibited.”

IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who authored Public Power, Private Gain, the first-ever national report on eminent domain, which documented more than 10,000 instances of eminent domain abuse, said, “Because lawmakers passed a broad restriction on the use of eminent domain for private development, and did so without any loopholes or exceptions, every home, business and ranch in the Mount Rushmore state should finally be safe from the government’s wrecking ball.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London in June 2005, public outcry against eminent domain for private development has increasingly spread across the United States. Legislators in 43 states and the U.S. Congress have passed or are currently considering legislation curbing eminent domain abuse.  South Dakota state Sen. Jim Lintz and House Majority Leader Larry Rhoden, HB 1080’s chief sponsors, said that they began working on the legislation the day after Kelo.

“Passage of this legislation reflects the near-unanimity of the American people on the issue of eminent domain for economic development,” said Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition, a grassroots group of homeowners and activists committed to stopping eminent domain abuse. “South Dakota legislators did exactly what Justice Stevens, who authored the majority opinion in Kelo, said he would do if he were a legislator—oppose eminent domain abuse.”

Every poll taken since Kelo shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose eminent domain for private profit.

Scott Bullock, an IJ senior attorney who argued Kelo before the U.S. Supreme Court, said, “The issue of eminent domain abuse has energized Americans throughout the nation because it literally hits home.  South Dakota has taken the lead.  It’s time for other states to follow.”