Saturday, July 02, 2005


Susette Kelo, who lost in the Supreme Court land taking case, with attorney Scott Bullock © Institute for Justice, 2005

(This column ran in July 7, 2005 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

"Walk on my property trying to take it, and I will die fighting for it."

"If you take a life for someone taking your property, if I'm on the jury I will not convict you."

Anonymous vents, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/30/2005.

NRA supporters typically support Republican candidates for one very simple reason: they feel that Republican legislators are less likely to craft laws that will take away their guns and their privileges in carrying and using them. Fair enough, since the legislative history pretty much supports that viewpoint- Democrats are far more likely to come down on the side of gun safety and keeping guns out of the hands of the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill, while Republicans are more laissez faire on the subject. But when it comes to government power over our homes and private property, it may surprise voters to know that earlier this year it was the Democrats and the Free Press who held off an effort by Georgia’s newly empowered Republican Party to give away the farm (literally) to foreign developers.

The subject of "eminent domain" ordinarily is a topic which is about as exciting as watching paint dry or snoozing through a long winded, pointless sermon. Simply put, eminent domain, also called the "taking clause," is the power given to the government under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution to take your personal property- your home- and use it for a governmental purpose. The operative phrase is: "... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." And the recent uproar focuses on two words in that phrase: "public use."

When Oakridge Drive was extended across southern Albany in the late 1970’s, many houses had to be condemned to make way for the road. When Dawson Road was widened to four lanes from two a couple of decades ago, every landowner on the route lost valuable frontage, diminishing the value of his or her property. Whether the government is building a jail, courthouse, or road, we may not like it, but at least we understand it when the government takes our property for an obvious public purpose.

But what happens when they take our homes so a big developer can put in a mall or office complex that will pay out more taxes than we do on our homes? Every person I’ve talked to, Republican or Democrat, is outraged by the recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut that upheld the power of a local government to take private property and hand it over to a developer for private businesses.

But if you voted for a Republican State Senator or member of the State House of Representatives last year, what are the odds you will know that during the 2005 session- the first in over a century with a Republican House, Senate, and Governor- bills were introduced by Republican leadership in both the House and Senate that would have allowed developers to take your private property without you even knowing about the deal until it was too late?

Senate Bill 5, introduced by the Senate Republican leadership, would have allowed private developers to do exactly that- take your property and give it to a private developer. As Sam Griffin, Jr. wrote in the Bainbridge Post Searchlight last January, when the bill was introduced:

"The idea embodied in SB 5, touted by Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, to allow state and local governments to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to private developers for private commercial purposes is the most outrageously repugnant piece of legislative claptrap since the Yazoo Land Fraud. It is neither a conservative principle nor consistent with the president’s concept of an "ownership generation"—and if Gov. Perdue and responsible Republican leadership do not immediately repudiate, quash and bury forever this travesty, folks will soon be hunting down the Georgia GOP with dogs."

Strong words indeed, especially from a conservative South Georgian who would ordinarily back Republican causes. As for the Republican controlled House, they did their part to help the giveaway to private developers by coming up with House Bill 218, which would have allowed local governments to negotiate in secret to give away property, tax breaks, or sweetheart land deals. Under HB 218, a county commission could engage in secret negotiations to attract a landfill, hazardous waste dump, or other undesirable activity without any public knowledge. The public would not be informed until after a deal is signed.

It was only because our free press was diligent- people like Sam Griffin, Jr., papers like the Savannah Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and many others- that neither of these bills made it through. But that was this year, and next year the Republican leadership could come up with a quieter, more subtle version of the same that could slip by our media watchdogs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in February that Republican State Senator Dan Moody of Alpharetta, one of the sponsors of the bill to take private property and give it to developers, gave his bill a "mock funeral." But he didn’t give up: "Instead, he decided to fight another day, and e-mailed an obituary that listed one survivor: a study committee."

So if you want to keep your property rights intact, and if you want your local governments to have to be open and honest with you about their business dealings with foreign developers, then talk to your State Representative or State Senator today. And remind them that their decisions on these bills could cost them their seats next year.


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