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March 8th, 2016 — By — In Articles

State and Federal Legislators Considering Changes to Eminent Domain Laws

Recently, state and federal lawmakers from across the country have introduced a number of legislative changes in the areas of private property rights and eminent domain. In this article, we highlight some of the latest (potential) legislative developments.

Arkansas Congressional Delegation Proposes Federal APPROVAL Act

Last year, Senator Boozman and Congressman Womack from Arkansas proposed the Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Areas to Land (APPROVAL) Act, which is designed to, “restore states’ rights to approve or reject an electric transmission project prior to the federal government exercising its power to take private property.” More specifically, the APPROVAL Act would require the U.S. Department of Energy to obtain state-level approval (and, under applicable circumstances, tribal government approval) prior to approving the use of eminent domain for transmission projects nationwide. At last check, the APPROVAL Act remains under consideration in the Senate.

Pennsylvania Considering Increased Compensation for Condemnees

As we have previously discussed, eminent domain laws in many states provide property owners the opportunity to recover more than just the Constitutional guarantee of “just compensation” when the government condemns their property. For example, in Pennsylvania (as in other states), property owners are entitled to reimbursement for their relocation expenses. This is in addition to attorneys’ fees, appraisal fees, and other costs that are reimbursable under certain circumstances.

Such reimbursements are often subject to caps. In Pennsylvania, the caps on relocation expenses are currently set at $12,000 for businesses and farm operations; $27,000 for homeowners; and $6,300 for residential tenants. A proposed law under review in both the House and Senate would increase these caps to $25,000; $31,000; and $7,200, respectively.

Georgia House Passes Bill (Temporarily) Halting Use of Eminent Domain for Pipeline Construction

On February 29, a bill establishing a moratorium on the use of eminent domain to acquire private property for the construction of petroleum pipelines passed Georgia’s House with a vote of 165-2.  If it becomes law, HB 1036 would prohibit the use of eminent domain to force private landowners to grant easements for the purpose of constructing new petroleum pipelines through July 2017.  Believed to be aimed at stalling or blocking the proposed $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline, which is the first petroleum artery to be constructed in Georgia in nearly two decades, the bill establishes a 13- member commission of elected officials and experts  to study Georgia’s procedures for awarding corporations eminent-domain power.

Under current law, pipeline companies such as Palmetto Pipeline operator Kinder Morgan must apply with the Georgia Department of Transportation for authorization to use eminent domain.  Citing a failure to prove “public convenience and necessity,” GDOT denied the company’s application in May 2015. Kinder Morgan appealed the denial and on March 1, 2016 a Fulton County Superior Court Judge upheld the denial.

South Carolina to Consider “A Reform of Eminent Domain” in 2016

In an opinion piece published in a local newspaper called Bluffton Today, South Carolina State Representative Bill Herbkersman said that residents can expect the state’s lawmakers to consider “a reform of eminent domain” in 2016. According to State Representative Herbkersman:

“Unfortunately, [the] private condemnation process has been, from time to time, used in what many of us think are questionable circumstances.

“Our reforms will tighten up the language so as to make absolutely certain that the condemned property is for public use, and that it will never be diverted to private control.”

Herbkersman’s comments regarding “private condemnation” may reference the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London. It was in Kelo that the Court first held that government authorities can us eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another if doing so will serve the public purpose of “economic development.” An issue that has faced near-constant scrutiny since the Court’s decision almost 11 years ago, this has recently become a hot-button issue in the 2016 Presidential race as well.

Or, Herbkersman may have been referencing S. 868 which passed the South Carolina Senate on March  3. Similar to their neighbors to the South, South Carolina legislators introduced S. 868 to block Kinder Morgan’s use of eminent domain to acquire easements across private property for the proposed Palmetto Pipeline.

We will continue keep you updated as these and other laws work their way through the state and federal legislatures.

Contact an Eminent Domain Lawyer at Owners’ Counsel of America

If you would like more information about federal eminent domain laws or the laws in your state, contact an attorney with Owners’ Counsel of America today. You can also call us directly at (877) 367-6963, or send us an email to learn more.