"I am a full supporter of eminent domain reform," said Pearce. "Many constituents of the 121st District have encouraged me to vote for this legislation." Eminent domain legislation unanimously passed out of the Rules Committee on April 7 and is expected to be taken up this week.
Representative Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico (21st District) and sponsor of HB 1944, is confident that the bill restores the right balance between competing interests, although he anticipates engaging in thoughtful, serious debate with his colleagues before the bill becomes law.
"A lot of work has gone into this bill," said Representative Hobbs, "and I believe that work will pay off in helping us meet our number one goal: Giving Missouri property owners the protection they deserve."
Last year, the Supreme Court's ruling in Kelo v New London expanded government power to take property from individuals and give it to developers in the name of economic development.
The Court's ruling drew anger from citizens across the country, but allowed state legislatures the freedom to restrict eminent domain. Governor Matt Blunt responded by establishing a Task Force on Eminent Domain. The resulting bill repeals nine sections of Missouri law and enacts twenty-three new sections in their place.
"Reforming eminent domain law in Missouri is no simple matter," Representative Hobbs admitted.
In a direct response to Kelo, HB 1944 stipulates that private property can be taken through eminent domain only for public use or blight. Farmland cannot be declared blighted and, therefore, is protected from eminent domain. Churches and non-profit organizations, both of which could be threatened under Kelo's "economic development" justification, will be protected. The bill allows authorized entities, like governments and utilities, to continue using the power of eminent domain to build public schools and libraries and to provide vital infrastructure like highways, railroads and electricity.
The bill also proposes a number of pro-landowner measures to further protect property owners' rights when their land is condemned. The condemning authority must give the landowner thirty days written notice both before beginning negotiation for the land and before filing a condemnation petition. The condemning authority also will be required to provide a "Landowner's Bill of Rights" that gives a plain understanding of the condemnation process.
"The Kelo decision was unfortunate," said Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill (156th District), "but this bill provides a reasonable and firm solution. It covers all the bases."