Senate moves to curb eminent domain

News release from Sen. Piccola….

Senate Approves Piccola’s Landmark Eminent Domain Reform

HARRISBURG – Senate Majority Whip Jeffrey Piccola (R-15) commended the Senate today for unanimously passing his “Property Rights Protection Act,” also known as Senate Bill 881, landmark legislation that would make Pennsylvania the first state to comprehensively rein in eminent domain abuse. Piccola’s legislation was spurred by a Supreme Court decision early this year regarding whether municipalities can seize an individual’s property and transfer it to private developers for non-governmental use.

“Passage of this legislation marks a truly significant accomplishment for our Commonwealth. We are on our way to being the first state in the country to comprehensively reform eminent domain by taking advantage of an opportunity to restore every citizen’s basic right: the right to keep what you own. After working closely with a number of key interest groups from around the state, I am pleased that my legislation truly strikes a reasonable balance by preserving our municipalities’ ability to address real problems, while also giving our property owners much-needed protections,” said Piccola.

Piccola’s legislation is in reaction to the United States Supreme Court decision this summer, Kelo v. City of New London, which ruled that governments can seize property to make room for private development projects that promise to boost the local economy.

Under Senate Bill 881, the use of eminent domain is prohibited for private economic development and the definition of “blight” is tightened. According to current law, an area can be razed if 10 or 15 percent of its buildings have supposed blight. Piccola’s legislation would require a majority of the property in an area to be blighted in order to use eminent domain.

“For too long, some local governments have threatened property owners in Pennsylvania with eminent domain for private profit. My legislation will help end these abuses but not touch local governments’ ability to acquire property to build everything traditionally considered a public use, such as roads, bridges, schools, and courthouses,” Piccola said.

Senate Bill 881 continues to allow cities in Pennsylvania to retain considerable flexibility in blighted areas, as well as the longstanding ability to condemn abandoned, dangerous, or severely tax-delinquent properties.

“The idea that a citizen’s property can be taken by the government and turned over to another citizen for non-governmental use is simply an outrageous proposition and something that was never intended by our founding fathers. The Property Rights Protection Act makes certain that home and small business owners in Pennsylvania know that they can keep what they have worked so hard to own,” said Piccola.

“The Senate’s approval of this legislation protects one of the fundamental rights we have as homeowners. I urge my colleagues in the House to quickly adopt this measure so that our Commonwealth can provide safeguards to all Pennsylvania homeowners from unwarranted government land grabs,” he added.

The Senate also endorsed a companion measure Senate Bill 897, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill (R-48), which will update and reform the existing eminent domain code. Both measures now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.