H.R. 1944: Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013

H.R. 1944

Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013

Date
February 25, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 1944 was introduced on May 9, 2013 by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.  H.R. 1944 was marked up on June 12, 2013 and was ordered reported by a voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 1944 prohibits state and local governments from using eminent domain to transfer private property for the purpose of economic development[1] if they receive federal economic development funds.[2]  If a court finds that a violation has occurred, the state or local government becomes ineligible to receive federal economic funds for two fiscal years.  The violation may be cured if the property is returned to the owner.  H.R. 1944 also prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain to transfer private property for the purpose of economic development.  If property is subjected to eminent domain for the purpose of economic development, H.R. 1944 authorizes a property owner or tenant to file a lawsuit in an appropriate state or federal court.

Within 30 days of the bill’s enactment, the Attorney General must notify states of the rights of property owners under H.R. 1944, and must notify the public by publishing the bill in the Federal Register and making it available online.  Within 120 days of enactment, the Attorney General must compile a list of laws under which federal economic development funds are distributed and provide the list to the states.  Within a year of the bill’s enactment and every year thereafter, the Attorney General must report to Congress on violations of H.R. 1944.

H.R. 1944 contains a sense of Congress recognizing that agricultural and other rural lands are uniquely threatened by eminent domain for economic development.  The bill also contains a sense of Congress that precautions must be taken to avoid the unfair or unreasonable taking of property from Hurricane Katrina survivors.  In addition, H.R. 1944 prohibits the federal government and states that receive federal economic development funds from exercising eminent domain over the property of religious or other nonprofit organizations because of their nonprofit or tax-exempt status.



[1] “Economic development” means taking private property, without the consent of the owner, and conveying or leasing such property from one private person or entity to another private person or entity for commercial enterprise carried on for profit, or to increase tax revenue, tax base, employment, or general economic health.

[2] “Federal economic development funds” means any Federal funds distributed to or through States or political subdivisions of States under Federal laws designed to improve or increase the size of the economies of States or political sub-divisions of States.

Background

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution allows the federal government to “invoke its power of eminent domain to take private property—known as ‘condemnation’ . . . .”  However, this power is limited and allows property to be taken only for “public use.”[1]  The Fourteenth Amendment due process clause extends these limitations to state and local governments as well.  

In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States in Kelo v. City of New London held that the city’s condemnation of private property to implement a redevelopment plan aimed at fostering economic growth constituted a “public use,” even though it was possible the property would be transferred to another private entity.  “The dissenters, however, argued that even a broad reading of ‘public use’ does not extend to private-to-private transfers solely to improve the tax base and create jobs.”[2]  H.R. 1944 addresses this by conditioning state and local governments’ eligibility for federal economic funds on the requirement that they refrain from using eminent domain to transfer private property for the purpose of economic development.



[1] Robert Meltz, Condemnation of Private Property for Economic Development: Kelo v. City of New London, Congressional Research Service (July 11, 2005) at 1.

[2] Id. at Summary.

Cost

According to CBO estimates, implementing H.R. 1944 would not affect direct spending or revenues.  Additional reporting required by the bill would cost less than $500,000 over the next five years, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.