2007 Eminent Domain Report Card: Louisiana Gets A “B”

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 6, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Louisiana 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, Louisiana has passed strong legislation protecting small property owners from eminent domain abuse.

“Louisiana 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, “In the midst of a heart-breaking year, Louisiana’s citizens were more aware than ever of the fundamental importance of having homes, businesses and houses of worship that cannot be taken away at the whim of a government official. Even as rumors swirled around the state that large sections of New Orleans and the surrounding areas might be taken away from their rightful owners because of the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the people of the state voted to make sure that the government had clear limits on how it could use eminent domain in the wake of the storms.”

Senate Bill No. 1, ratified by Louisiana’s voters on September 30, 2006, amended the state constitution to specifically prohibit the taking of private property for a private use. Under the amendment’s terms—and with a few notable exceptions—localities are prohibited from condemning private property merely to generate taxes or jobs. Instead, the state’s blight laws must now ensure that eminent domain can only be used for the removal of a threat to public health and safety caused by a particular property. All economic development and urban renewal laws currently on the Louisiana books must conform to the limitations imposed by SB 1. The new amendment does not address the power of municipalities to use eminent domain for the benefit of industrial parks since that is specifically permitted in another provision of the Louisiana Constitution. It does, however, provide that a person’s home cannot be taken for an industrial park or even for a public port facility.

House Bill 707 provides a “right of first refusal,” requiring the government to offer any condemned property it no longer needs back to the original owner before selling it to any other private party.

The protections adopted in Louisiana’s amendments are absolutely vital to ensure that citizens who are still trying to rebuild the homes, businesses and communities shattered by the hurricanes will not have to face the additional trauma of losing those uniquely important places that they can call their own. As long as it is not a threat to the public health and safety, property is protected by the Louisiana Constitution from the greedy ambitions of those developers whose vision of New Orleans doesn’t include its long-time residents.

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 Louisiana 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.]