Thursday, July 28, 2005

Legislation would force state and local governments to "think twice" before abusing eminent domain.

Bonilla moves to curb the taking of property


Gary Martin
San Antonio Express-News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — In response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that expanded eminent domain powers, Republican and Democrats on Capitol Hill filed a bill Wednesday that would penalize state and local governments for takings.

The bill is aimed at restricting the reach of governments under the June ruling, which was denounced by conservative and liberal leaders as a threat to private property owners.

"The Supreme Court's eminent domain ruling places the American Dream in jeopardy," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, author of the legislation, titled Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property Act.

Bonilla was joined by 19 Republican and Democrat co-sponsors in the latest effort on Capitol Hill to blunt the controversial Kelo vs. New London, Conn., ruling.

The high court found that municipalities, like New London, could seize private property, including homes, for the "greater public good," in this case a private development project.

But the court also said in its ruling that states could limit the scope of eminent domain. Several, including Texas, have moved to curtail the power of local governments in seizing private property.

Federal lawmakers also have filed legislation designed to nullify or curb the court ruling.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, filed a bipartisan bill that would limit the use of federal funds for any state or local project that resulted from a private taking.

A companion bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Bonilla said his legislation would force state and local governments to "think twice before abusing eminent domain."

Under the legislation, a local or state government would be prevented from using federal funds on any economic development project, not just those in which eminent domain powers were used.

"By subjecting all projects to penalties, we are removing a loophole that localities can exploit by playing a funding 'shell game' with projects," Bonilla said.

Other Texans who co-sponsored the legislation include Reps. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; John Carter, R-Houston; Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock; and Mac Thornberry, R-Amarillo.

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