Showing early signs of strong support, the House Agriculture Committee today considered Congressman Henry Bonilla's eminent domain legislation. Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) are both out-spoken co-sponsors of the legislation.
"It doesn't matter where you live - city, farm or suburbia - eminent domain abuses know no boundaries. I've heard from people living in downtown neighborhoods who fear the loss of their home; their fear is shared by folks in rural America whose farm land is threatened. Something must be done to stop these abuses," said Bonilla.
Bonilla authored and introduced the bi-partisan legislation in July of 2005. The Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property (STOPP) Act, HR 3405, will prevent governments from taking property from one private party and giving it to another private party. When abuses occur, the STOPP Act will prevent localities and states from receiving federal economic assistance on ALL economic development projects, not just those projects upon which abuses occur. Furthermore, the legislation will make state and local governments subject to the Uniform Relocation Act, which provides fair market value and moving expenses for citizens relocated by abuses.
"The most important difference between my legislation and others offered is that we are penalizing ALL economic development projects, not just those upon which abuses occur. By subjecting all projects to penalties, we are removing a loophole that localities can exploit by playing a funding 'shell game' with projects," said Bonilla.
Bonilla was the lead-witness in today's Agriculture Committee hearing. He presented his testimony along with co-sponsor Maxine Waters (D-CA). Other witnesses at the hearing included representatives from the American Farm Bureau and the Forest Landowners Association, and Ms. Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which argued the case of Kelo v. City of New London before the Supreme Court.
"Congressman Bonilla's legislation creates a strong disincentive to prevent state and local governments from using these broad eminent domain powers and I am pleased to be a chief cosponsor of this legislation," said Chairman Goodlatte.
Bonilla's STOPP Act is co-sponsored by more than 50 Members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle, including Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Richard Pombo (R-CA), Chairman of the Resources Committee, Maxine Waters (D-CA), senior member of the Judiciary Committee, and Stephanie Herseth (D-SD).
"This legislation has earned across the board support from the most conservative to the most liberal members of Congress," said Bonilla. "The Supreme Court's eminent domain ruling shocked America. No one had ever considered this threat - that the government could take-away your private property and give it to someone else for private gain. The ruling has created a new awakening and fear among property owners and now Congress is responding."
An important aspect of Bonilla's legislation is that it only affects the taking of private property from one private entity to another. The legislation still allows local governments to use eminent domain for its original conception, which is to build new highways, schools, airports or other projects that benefit the public.
Bonilla is a long-time advocate of private property rights. He represents one of the largest districts in the nation, which includes more than 700 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Bonilla currently serves a Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.