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Senate Fails to Pass Eminent Domain Reform

Despite overwhelming nationwide public support and historic bipartisan backing in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2006 (H.R. 4128/S. 3873). As a result, thousands of Americans will remain subject to eminent domain abuse supported by federal dollars.

After failing to bring to a vote the reform that would have de-funded eminent domain abuse at the federal level, S. 3873 was “hotlined” last Tuesday [Dec. 5, 2006] in an attempt to pass the legislation before the 109th Congress adjourned last week. (Hotlining is an expedited process that allows congressional leadership to present a bill to the entire chamber for unanimous approval.) However, at least one unknown senator placed an anonymous “hold” on S. 3873, effectively killing the legislation. Eminent domain reform legislation was stalled both in the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

Dana Berliner, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented Susette Kelo in her fight against eminent domain abuse and is leading the nationwide effort for eminent domain reform, said, “Historically, the federal government has provided the money to throw hard-working people out of their homes and businesses to make way for private development projects. The Senate had the opportunity to end this abuse, and they blew it.” Under the federal Housing Act of 1949, cities were authorized to use eminent domain to clear “blighted neighborhoods,” and in the process displaced one million people, two-thirds of them African-American.

More than one year ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005” (H.R. 4128) by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 376-38. This bill would counter the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s universally reviled decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows state and local governments to use eminent domain to seize property for private development on the mere possibility of increased tax revenue or jobs. H.R. 4128 would discourage this by withdrawing federal economic development funding for two years from any local government that uses eminent domain for economic development. This popular legislation was sponsored in the House by Representatives Sensenbrenner, Conyers, Waters, Bonilla and many others. Reform was championed in the Senate by Senator John Cornyn but became mired in the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than a year. To help push through the reform, Senator James Inhofe introduced an identical bill (S. 3873) to H.R. 4128 on the floor of the Senate in September. That bill languished and failed to pass.

Berliner said, “Throughout the past year, we called on the Senate leaders to make eminent domain reform a priority. We showed them the polling data that demonstrated how much the public hates eminent domain for private use and wants to see it stopped. We set up meetings with homeowners who faced the loss of their homes because of this abuse of government power. But in the end, the Senate never committed to end the abuse of eminent domain using federal money. It’ll now be up to the 110th Congress to provide homeowners with protection.”


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