House hearing held on Padden bill protecting private-property rights

Today the Washington State House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Sen. Mike Padden’s bill to protect private-property owners from having their property taken by government and given to a private company for economic-development purposes. The bill also would clarify that issues of blight and economic development are not sufficient causes for eminent-domain condemnations.

“Private-property rights are fundamental in both our U.S. and state constitutions,” testified Padden, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “Even though there has to be just compensation, it is still taking property against the wishes of the property owner. Of course, there is no problem if you have a willing buyer and a willing seller, but to use the power of government to condemn that property is a serious matter and should only be done sparingly and for a clearly defined public need.

“The government should not be able to pick winners and losers, or have some understanding with a developer that they can come into an area they deem blighted and just take a property.”

Senate Bill 5363, which passed the Senate by a vote of 30-19 earlier this month, would prohibit government’s use of its eminent-domain power for economic development.

The term “eminent domain” refers to the power to take private property for public use by a state, municipality, or private person or corporation authorized to exercise the power on behalf of the public.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says private property can only be taken by the government for public use. However, in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the court defined ‘public use’ so broadly that governments at various levels can take a citizen’s property for whatever purpose it chooses, even if it is to sell that property to a private developer or even another private citizen.

“This is a real situation,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “People across this state are increasingly concerned about their private-property rights because there are local governments that want to use this power in so-called blighted areas, rather than just letting the market decide it or leaving it to some voluntary process.”

The judiciary committee has until April 1 to support the bill in order for SB 5363 to continue to advance this legislative session.