Today, Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will introduce the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2007 to stop taxpayer funding of eminent domain abuse. They will announce the bill at a press conference at 1 p.m. today in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
This bipartisan bill would counter the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows governments to use eminent domain to seize private property on behalf of private developers in hopes of increasing tax revenue. The Act would deny for two fiscal years economic development funds to state and local governments that use eminent domain for private development.
In 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4128, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005, by a vote of 376 to 38. The bill was co-sponsored by representatives from across the political and ideological spectrum, including Reps. Waters, Sensenbrenner, John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), and Henry Bonilla (R-TX). Despite unprecedented bipartisan political and public support, the bill languished in the Senate Judiciary Committee and ultimately died.
“Federal protections from eminent domain abuse are long overdue,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which argued the Kelo case on behalf of the homeowners. IJ and the Castle Coalition — a nationwide grassroots organization of property owners and activists dedicated to stopping eminent domain abuse — have led the fight to reform state and federal eminent domain laws. “Even though the vast majority of Americans oppose the abuse of eminent domain for private development, the federal government still funds that abuse.”
June 23 marked the two-year anniversary of the Kelo decision. In every poll since that ruling, the public is overwhelmingly against eminent domain for private use. Forty-two states have passed eminent domain reforms reining in the Kelo decision, including 10 states where voters passed ballot measures by wide margins in last year’s elections.
But many of those reforms are inadequate, and only Congress can stop the federal funding of eminent domain abuse.
“Your security in your home, business or church should not depend on your zip code,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney. “The Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2007 strikes the right balance. It prevents Americans’ federal tax dollars from being used to kick them off their land for private development, while allowing federal money for traditional public uses like roads and post offices.”
Federal funds were used in the New London, Conn., project that took away the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors to replace them with private development, as well as many similar projects across the country.
“My battle started to save my little pink cottage, but it has rightfully grown into something much larger—the fight to restore the American Dream and the sacredness and security of each one of our homes,” said Susette Kelo. “Our federal tax dollars shouldn't be used to take away our homes and businesses so that developers can build shopping malls and condominiums."
According to a new study using U.S. Census Data, eminent domain for private development falls hardest on the poor and minorities, just as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned it would in her Kelo dissent. “Victimizing the Vulnerable: The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse” was released by the Institute for Justice and is available at www.ij.org.
“Eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets the politically disenfranchised: the poor, less-educated and minorities,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition. “Unsurprisingly, tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers prey on those that are less likely to be able to defend themselves. It is vital that the federal government stop subsidizing this blatant abuse of power.”
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