[An Alabama] House committee approved a bill Wednesday to prevent city and county governments from condemning property to use it for a private development, such as a commercial shopping center.
The House Committee on Municipal and County Government approved on a voice vote the bill that is being pushed by Gov. Bob Riley as a reaction to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that said cities could use the power of eminent domain to obtain private property for commercial development.
Later Wednesday, the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Biddle, R-Gardendale, that would restrict the use of eminent domain for a similar range of private projects.
The issue was on Riley's agenda for the special session of the Legislature that began Tuesday. The eminent domain bill is expected to be debated by the full House Thursday.
A sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, said the bill will become law immediately if passed during the session. He said he believes it addresses the concerns of Alabama citizens who were upset by the Supreme Court ruling.
The main House sponsor of the bill is Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, a veteran lawmaker who is battling cancer and was not at Wednesday's meeting.
Several committee members suggested the issue should have instead been dealt with as a constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by voters.
During a public hearing, several speakers said they felt the bill contains loopholes and does not go far enough to protect the homes and property of Alabamians.
"I'd compare this bill to a surgeon putting a Band Aid on the incision where brain surgery has been done," said James Rhodes, who identified himself as a private citizen from Cullman County.
Supporters of the legislation said the bill provides protection for Alabama landowners.
"I will suggest that this issue is extremely complex. We believe this bill is ideal to immediately respond to the current problem," said Ken Wallis, the governor's legal adviser.
The four-page bill specifies that cities and counties can't "condemn property for retail, office, commercial or residential development."
Among the complaints Wednesday were that the bill did not prevent the state from using eminent domain and did not specifically say eminent domain could not be used for "industrial" development. Riley, however, says the bill covers "commercial" development and that includes industrial projects.
Committee chairman Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, said he supports the bill.
"We needed to get some legislation to protect the property owners of Alabama. This can be strengthened if we need to," said Dukes, who served 18 years as mayor of Decatur before being elected to the Legislature.
A variety of eminent domain bills are pending in the Senate. Sen. Roger Bedford, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee, who also supports the initiative, did not put any eminent domain bills on his committee's agenda Wednesday. Bedford, D-Russellville, said he wants Venable's bill to be the one to pass so that Venable's name will be forever attached to the legislation.
"It's the consensus of this Senate that Rep. Venable's bill deserves the right to pass," he said.
"You've just killed our eminent domain," Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, told Bedford at the end of the committee meeting.
Bedford said his committee would meet again Thursday to pass a Senate version of eminent domain, but he doesn't want any Senate bill to have a chance of passing before Venable's version.
After Bedford's committee didn't take up any of the five eminent domain bills assigned to the committee, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, called a meeting of the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee to take up Biddle's eminent domain bill.
It was the same bill that Biddle and Venable had in the regular session. The Senate committee expanded the bill to cover industrial and manufacturing projects and then approved it without dissent.
Biddle said his bill will be substituted in the Senate with Venable's bill.
Bedford urged Sanders' committee to act and set the stage for Venable's bill. "As a cancer survivor myself, I hope we'll remember Rep. Venable at this time," he said.
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