Arlington, Va.—Georgia home and small business owners have reason to celebrate according to a 50-state eminent domain report card released today. In the two years since the infamous Kelo eminent domain ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed eminent domain for private gain, Georgia has passed strong legislation protecting small property owners from eminent domain abuse.
“Georgia homeowners are more protected from eminent domain abuse today than they were the day the Kelo decision was announced,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, a national grassroots organization that examined and graded eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states since the Kelo ruling. Read the report at: www.CastleCoalition.org/publications/report_card.
According to the report, Georgia is a state in which “2006 will be remembered as a banner year for the protection of private property rights. The Georgia General Assembly not only heeded citizens’ calls for reform by passing important statutory reforms about the way that eminent domain may be used, but it also gave voters the opportunity to adopt a constitutional amendment requiring a vote by elected officials to precede the use of eminent domain for redevelopment.”
The report stated, “House Bill 1313 (2006) counters the Kelo decision by providing that economic development is not a public use that justifies the use of eminent domain. Just as importantly, the bill significantly tightens the definition of blight in Georgia’s eminent domain laws.” Now property can only be designated blighted if it meets two of six objective factors and “is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, or crime in the immediate proximity of the property.” The bill also requires government officials to evaluate blight on a parcel-by-parcel basis in order for the properties to be subject to condemnation for private development. No longer can entire areas be threatened with the wrecking ball based on the dilapidation of a few properties; now home and business owners can protect themselves by keeping their buildings well-maintained. The new law emphasizes, “Property shall not be deemed blighted because of esthetic conditions,” and the government is given the burden of showing that a piece of property meets the criteria for blight. These changes go a tremendous way to protecting the freedoms of Georgia’s citizens.
House Resolution 1306 (2006) became a constitutional amendment that was approved by nearly 85 percent of the voters. Unfortunately, the constitutional amendment was only a minor procedural requirement that before eminent domain can be used for redevelopment, it must be voted on by elected officials. (In most cases of eminent domain abuse, elected officials vote; the point of constitutional protections is to prevent citizens’ rights from being voted away.) Although any constitutional amendments strengthening property rights are good, Georgians would be better off if some of the strong reforms of HB 1313 made it into the state constitution.
Institute for Justice—Eminent Domain Report Card (Georgia)
June 6, 2007
Page Two of Two
Among the states that passed the strongest reforms protecting property owners are Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota, each of which received an A or A- grade. States that received F’s were: Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.
“In only two years since Kelo, 41 states have reformed their laws to offer greater protection to small property owners,” said Jenifer Zeigler, legislative affairs attorney with the Castle Coalition. “But much more work remains if homeowners, small business owners, churches and farmers are to be as safe as those in Georgia from the unholy alliance of tax-hungry governments and land-hungry developers.”
The report seeks to step back and evaluate the legislative work that has been done and is left to do. It finds, “Some states have passed model reforms that can serve as an example for others. Some states enacted nominal reform—possibly because of haste, oversight or compromise—and need to know what is left to fix. And finally, there are those states that have failed to act altogether, leaving home, farm, and business owners threatened by Kelo-type takings and beyond.”
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s vice president for communications, at (703) 682-9320 ext. 205 or in the evening/weekend at (703) 527-8730. For more information on eminent domain abuse, visit www.ij.org or www.castlecoalition.org.]