Following a barrage of public condemnation over the past week, state Sen. Cecil Staton announced today he was altering his controversial rural economic development bill introduced Jan. 12 that contained passages giving community improvement districts (CIDs) the power of eminent domain. In a press conference, Staton defended the bill (Senate Bill 414) and indicated the eminent domain references were a mistake.
"This is not an eminent domain bill," said Staton, a Republican from Macon. "It never was intended to be a bill about eminent domain... And we're going to make it very, very clear once and for all that is what we have said it is from the very beginning: a bill about economic development."
Staton gave his changes to the Senate Economic Development Committee following the conference for vote.
In the new and improved bill, he promised, such community improvement districts would not have the power to condemn private property.
The move comes at a time when Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate -- as well as Gov. Sonny Perdue -- are championing themselves as private property advocates. Several senators who cosponsored Staton's pro economic development bill also sponsored tough anti-eminent domain bills in recent months including: Republicans Chip Pearson of Dawsonville, Jim Whitehead of Evans and Jeff Chapman of Brunswick.
Making matters even more embarrassing for Republicans, a similar economic development bill in 2005 encountered heavy fire from the media and property rights activists. Sen. Dan Moody, a Republican businessman from Alpharetta, introduced a bill last year that in part would have allowed the government to use eminent domain to take private property for economic development purposes. Much of the Republican leadership signed on to it.
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour had sponsored SB 5 but later called it an "anathema to the people of Georgia" after radio talk show host Neal Boortz lambasted it on his morning program. Balfour, who is in charge of deciding which bills are heard on the Senate floor, this year promises that non-governmental authorities will be severely limited in their eminent domain powers after the session. Groups with that power range from the Georgia Ports Authority to numerous city development authorities.
The anti-eminent domain fray follows the U.S. Supreme Court's hugely contentious 2005 ruling that said it was OK for local governments to condemn private property for economic development purposes.
Currently sitting in the state House and Senate are at least 12 anti-eminent domain bills.
Atlanta Business Chronicle: http://atlanta.bizjournals.com