By Sue Ella Deadwyler
The proposal that [georgia] government use the power of eminent domain to condemn private property for economic development was so bad that, when it was first introduced in S.B. 5, it didn't make it out of committee. But, we have the same song, second verse in S.B. 86 and it's moving toward becoming law. S.B. 86 passed the Senate 40 to 10 last Thursday and is now in the House Judiciary Committee where it needs to stay.
S.B. 86 has loopholes that must be closed before private property owners are secure on their own property. Consider this. S.B. 86 continues the notion that private property can be taken for economic development but says it this way: "[I]n no event shall a public purpose be construed to include the exercise of eminent domain solely or primarily for the purpose of improving tax revenue or the tax base or the purpose of economic development." Note the loophole "solely or primarily" that allows private property to be condemned if government decides to use some other excuse for taking property from those who don't want to sell.
The bill continues, "This shall include condemning property for the purpose of transferring, leasing, or allowing the use of such property to a private
developer, corporation, or other entity solely or primarily to attempt to expand tax revenue, increase the taxable value of the property, or promote economic development." Note that loophole "solely or primarily" again. Also, note that it allows the state to grab land to hand over to private developers, corporations or others. Does that give government the right to condemn more land than is actually needed for authentic public purposes and then sell or lease or give to a private developer the rest of the property? It sounds like that to me. So private property owners could lose their own property, simply, because government wants it transferred to a more prosperous private owner that could provide a more lucrative tax base.
S.B. 86 declares the intent of the General Assembly is that private property rights of residents and businesses should be protected over the interests of private developers and corporations. However, the last time I looked, "should" is a softer word than shall. Shall is a mandate. So, should private property owners be protected? Yes, they should, but shall should've been written instead of should if the General Assembly really intends to protect private property from predators, including government predators that would rather collect big business taxes than settle for lower personal taxes on the same property.
This bill went to the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Representative Wendell Willard. Call him at 404-656-5124 and ask him to keep S.B. 86 in his committee. Not only is it bad news for private property owners, the U.S. Constitution prohibits the use of eminent domain to take private property for economic development. Eminent domain may be legitimately used for public projects such as roads, bridges and public buildings, but not to transfer land to other private owners. Private property ownership is a basic foundation of the free enterprise system and government should stop fiddlin' with it.
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