Institute for Justice Urges Georgia House Judiciary Committee Not to Pass Watered-Down Reform

PRESS RELEASE: February 23, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.— In a letter issued this morning to the members of the Georgia House Judiciary Committee, the Institute for Justice urged that the Committee members not make changes to House Bill 1313 (the eminent domain reform bill proposed by the Governor) that would loosen the bill’s definition of “blight,” and thus create a loophole that would continue to allow condemnations for private redevelopment in the state.

The amended version that the Committee is scheduled to vote on this afternoon includes removing the requirement that, in order to be “blighted,” and thus eligible for eminent domain, property actually present a threat to public health and safety.  Such a change, because it leaves vague factors of “blight” in place, would allow cities to bypass the bill’s protections against the abuse of eminent domain for economic development.  The vague factors include:

“Substandard, deteriorated, or deteriorating” (terms that can mean almost anything, including a home not having two full bathrooms or three full bedrooms),

“Inadequate provisions for . . . open spaces” (which can mean that homes or businesses are close together), and

“Impairment of development by airport or transportation noise” (which can mean that a neighborhood either has busy streets or is near busy streets or a highway or interstate).

“Georgians deserve real eminent domain reform – not reform that contains loopholes,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Bert Gall, who last month testified before the Committee about the abuse of eminent domain for private development.  “If vague and open-ended factors are all that’s required to declare homes and businesses blighted, then the threat to homes and businesses from the abuse of eminent domain will not be over.”

The Institute for Justice represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors in the now-infamous Supreme Court case of Kelo v. City of New London, in which the Court said that governments may condemn any home or business and transfer it to another private party so long as more tax revenues or jobs could be generated.  In response to the decision, legislatures in 43 states are considering, or have passed, reforms to curb the abuse of eminent domain for private development.