Protecting Property Rights for All Americans

Washington, DC – June 13, 2013 – (RealEstateRama) — Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) prepared the following statement for today’s House Judiciary Committee markup on H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013:

I thank the Chairman for putting H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013, on today’s calendar. This legislation has been around for a number of years, and I am pleased that has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle.

This legislation was originally drafted in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. City of New London. In this 2005 decision, the court held 5-4 that “economic development” can be a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, justifying the government’s taking of private property. This ruling justified the government’s taking of private property from one small homeowner and giving it to a private business for use in the interest of creating a more lucrative tax base.

Kelo grants the government significant power with virtually zero accountability to the “public use” requirement in the Fifth Amendment’s Taking Clause. The implications of this decision transformed the original purpose of the “public use” limitation. Kelo permits the government to force individuals to forfeit their private property to a large corporation.

The dissent Kelo protested this over-reaching power and modification of the takings clause. Former Justice O’Connor stated, “The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

Other groups including the AARP and NAACP also opposed Kelo, noting that “The takings that result [from the Court’s decision] will disproportionately affect and harm the economically disadvantaged and, in particular, racial and ethnic minorities and the elderly.” Furthermore, representatives of religious organizations have stated that “Houses of worship and other religious institutions are, by their very nature, non-profit and almost universally tax-exempt. These fundamental characteristics of religious institutions render their property singularly vulnerable to being taken under the rationale approved by the Supreme Court.”

In 2005, I first introduced a version of this bill to restore to all Americans the property rights the Supreme Court took away. That bill, H.R. 4128, passed with the clear support of this House by a vote of 376-38. Since Kelo, more than 40 states have passed laws to rein in eminent domain power. Yet, these laws exist on a varying degree, and the need to ensure that property rights are returned to all Americans is as strong now as it was when Kelo was decided.

The Private Property Rights Protection Act enhances the penalty for states and localities that abuse their eminent domain power by denying states or localities that commit such abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. Specifically, if a state or political subdivision of a state uses its eminent domain power to transfer private property to other private parties for economic development, the state is ineligible to receive federal economic development funds for two fiscal years following a judicial determination that the law has been violated. Additionally, the bill prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development purposes.

The protection of property rights is one of the most important tenets of our government. I am mindful of the long history of eminent domain abuses, particularly in low-income and often predominantly minority neighborhoods, and the need to stop it. I am also mindful of the reasons we should allow the government to take land when the way in which the land is being used constitutes an immediate threat to public health and safety. I believe this bill accomplishes both goals.

I urge my colleagues to join me in protecting property rights for all Americans and limiting the dangerous effects of the Kelo decision on the most vulnerable in society. I yield back the balance of my time.

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