Georgia Passes Strong Property Rights Protections

Published June 1, 2006

The state of Georgia has passed one of the nation’s strongest protections against eminent domain abuse by state and local government bodies. On April 4, Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed the Landowner’s Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act, which he had previously championed, and a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow only elected officials to use eminent domain and would “prohibit the contested use of eminent domain except for public use as defined by general law.”

According to the Castle Coalition, a national property rights group, in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling allowed governments to seize land from private owners and give it to other private entities, at least 47 state legislatures have introduced, considered, or passed legislation aiming to curb the use of eminent domain and prevent governments from seizing private property for private development to increase tax revenue.

In addition, local governments across the nation have tightened up ordinances and approved non-binding resolutions, and some banks have refused to lend money to developers for private property seized by government. (See “Missouri Bank Refuses to Finance Eminent Domain Development Projects,” Budget & Tax News, April 2006, and “Bank Ends Loans to Developers Who Build on Land Seized by Government,” Budget & Tax News, March 2006.)

Georgia a Microcosm

Georgia is a microcosm of the eminent domain debate taking place among legislators, property owners, special interests, and many governments. The state had largely adhered to the intent and spirit of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as traditionally interpreted, but the Georgia Public Policy Foundation had warned the potential for eminent domain abuse loomed large because hundreds of authorities, agencies, local governments, and boards possessed eminent domain power.

Various groups have assailed the new Georgia law as too little, too much, or too late, depending on their positions on the power of government to seize private property for economic development.

Kelly McCutchen, executive vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, is optimistic about the aftermath of Kelo.

“In the end, the Georgia Legislature passed one of the strongest eminent domain reforms in the nation,” said McCutchen. “The Supreme Court ruling became a wake-up call to homeowners and landowners dozing during government’s mission creep. But there’s still work ahead, and Georgians have to stay alert to protect property rights.”

Benita M. Dodd ([email protected]) is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.