Eminent Domain Reform Protects Private
A column by State Senator Pat Browne
16th Senatorial District
Even before last year's controversial U.S. Supreme Court
ruling on the issue, the government's use of "eminent
domain" to take private property for public use was a
Eminent domain was traditionally used to clear the way
for new highways or other public projects deemed essential
for the community. Private property owners – often families
who had lived in the home for generations – had their lives
greatly affected, even if they were compensated.
This process was made even more controversial with last
year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that threatened to
greatly expand the use of eminent domain. In Kelo v. City of
New London, the court ruled that governments can seize
property to make room for private development projects that
promise to boost the local economy.
The decision raised many concerns about property rights,
but the court also allowed states to craft their own
approach to the issue, and that is why we are taking action.
The Senate recently gave final approval of eminent domain
reform legislation I co-sponsored that will protect
Pennsylvania homeowners, small businesses, farms and
churches from land seizures for private development.
Senate Bill 881, the Property Rights Protection Act,
prohibits the use of eminent domain for taking private
property for commercial purposes without a finding of
blight, as specifically defined by the bill. Another
measure passed earlier by the Senate, House Bill 2054,
modernizes the Eminent Domain Code, governing all
condemnations of property for public purposes and ensuring
The governor recently signed both bills into law.
Senate Bill 881 allows cities in Pennsylvania to retain
flexibility in blighted areas and continues the longstanding
ability to condemn abandoned, dangerous, or severely
tax-delinquent properties. However, it lays out strict
rules to limit eminent domain.
- The legislation prohibits any
government/condemner from using eminent domain to take
private property in order to use it for private
enterprise, with certain exceptions.
- When acquiring a single unit of
property by eminent domain, a government may declare it to
be blighted only if the property meets specific criteria.
- When acquiring multiple units of
property by eminent domain, a government can declare an
area to be blighted only if a majority of the units of
property meet requirements and represent a majority of the
political subdivision could exercise eminent domain
authority against land that is situated in another
political subdivision without approval.
American history is filled with accounts of people
uprooted from family homes to make way for construction of a
public project. These are sad stories that remind us of the
duty of those in government to wield eminent domain power
responsibility – and rarely.
Last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling was a challenge,
and an opportunity. It was a challenge to those of us who
care about private property rights, and an opportunity to
modernize our eminent domain laws and enact safeguards for
citizens. The Property Rights Protection Act makes the most
of that opportunity, resulting in one of the most
comprehensive reform measures in the country.