- Failed to appropriately address the definition of “public use” or “blight.”
- Changes to notice requirements put property owners at a greater disadvantage.
Just like several other states, Tennessee created a state commission to study the use of eminent domain and ways of reining in abuse. State legislators filed dozens of bills intended to make sure that Tennesseans would not have to worry about their own homes, businesses, farms, or houses of worship being condemned for someone else’s private benefit. But of all the possible eminent domain reform bills to choose from, the General Assembly ended up selecting two that did very little to improve the protection of property rights in their state.
House Bill 3450/Senate Bill 3296 made a slight improvement to the state’s definition of “blight,” yet the definition still remains too broad. The bills also provided some additional notice to property owners during the condemnation process. The bills did remove the power of eminent domain from certain parties and modified the state’s definition of “public use” to exclude economic development, but they still permit governmental entities to transfer property no longer being used for a public use to another public or private party and they expressly allow the government to condemn properties for the purposes of building “industrial parks.” House Bill 3700 actually seems to be a bit of a regression, changing a previous requirement that condemning authorities publish notices (including a map of the targeted area) once a week for three consecutive weeks to a requirement that the condemning authority post the map of the targeted area for review in at least two locations. House Bill 3700 also removes a prior requirement that condemning authorities obtain approval from the governing body of the affected county unless the condemnations were pursuant to a redevelopment plan that utilized tax increment financing applicable to the county property tax levy.
These changes to Tennessee’s law should be deeply disappointing to the state’s citizens, especially since the General Assembly could have selected from any number of bills that would have offered real, substantial protections for citizens’ property rights. Due to the legislature’s failure to fix the state’s definition of blight, the issues will need to be revisited if Tennesseans are to be assured of the property rights protections they deserve.