Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy your backyard, the government launched another ill-fated assault on private property rights. A bill that would have let Washington politicians condemn or restrict the use of private property with or without just compensation recently failed to get enough votes in the U.S. House to pass. There's no guarantee this bill won't be brought back to the floor soon by the House leadership and passed under different rules - which is why I've decided to use this week's column to inform you about it.
The Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Act would have locked land under government control - preventing private use - and thrown away the key. What's even more preposterous about this bill is that it concerned land in the same congressional district in Connecticut where the Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain case originated. It was just two years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that your property is your own so long as the government doesn't want it.
In recent years, local governments have tried to broaden their power of eminent domain to allow municipalities to take land from one party and give it to another to improve the local economy. That's not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the "Takings Clause" in the Fifth Amendment stating that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation."
The Constitution recognizes that eminent domain can be a necessary tool, but the Fifth Amendment is meant as a check on the government's power - not a launching point for land grabs.
With apologies to Ronald Reagan, the nine most terrifying words in the English language might be, "I'm from the government - I'm here for your land."
In 2005, I co-sponsored the Private Property Rights Protection Act to protect private property and curb abuses of eminent domain. The bill was in response to the Kelo decision, in which the city of New London, Connecticut seized homes to make way for a pharmaceutical company. While this legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House, it failed to make it way through the Senate.
However, President Bush signed an executive order on the one-year anniversary of the Kelo decision stating that the federal government must limit its use of eminent domain and that a taking of private property may not "advance the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken."
In the most recent attempt to abuse eminent domain, legislation offered in the U.S. House would have designated sections of the Eightmile River as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. But the bill's language was written such that it could have exposed private property owners to strict regulations on the use of their land or worse, it could have triggered the National Park Service's ability to condemn that land.
A number of my colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee voiced their opposition to this bill in its early stages when it was rushed through the committee process before the National Park Service could answer questions on it. The bill was then brought to a vote in the full House under suspension, which is a type of vote usually reserved for non-controversial legislation, such as naming post offices and federal highways. I and many of my Republican colleagues voted against the bill.
While there were more votes cast in favor of this legislation than opposing it, it fortunately did not get the required two-thirds votes to pass under suspension.
The defeat of irresponsible legislation like the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Act makes certain that the rights of private property owners guaranteed in the Constitution are upheld. I will continue to fight against this legislation and other bills like it that fail to respect the constitutional rights of private property owners.
Hillsboro OH Times-Gazette: http://www.timesgazette.com
Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, represents Ohio's 8th Congressional District