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Eminent domain should be used rarely

They say your home is your castle, but what they don’t mention is that even a castle can’t protect you from the abuse of eminent domain.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, eminent domain is a process that allows the government to seize property for public use. In effect, the government takes the property but also pays the owner fair market value for the land. The reasonable use of eminent domain can make sense for projects that serve the public good like building a new road, or constructing a new school. However, we have also seen eminent domain abused for projects that benefit a private company, or simply don’t provide the level of public good that can justify the taking of land from our citizens.

Just a few days ago we saw a serious blow dealt to the rights of property owners as the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District ruled in favor of allowing the Grain Belt Express to move forward. This project would allow an out-of-state private company to utilize eminent domain to seize land in eight counties across Missouri, including Buchanan County, in order to build a power line that would transmit energy to parts of our state, but primarily to customers outside our borders. The bottom line is the project would cause Missouri citizens to lose their land so a private company could increase its profits. As someone who cares deeply about your property rights, I gave my full support to legislation that would prevent the use of eminent domain for this project.

For the 2020 session I have already filed HB 1412 to give property owners the help they need to fight back against those who seek to take their property. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that it can be incredibly costly for a private landowner to try to fight back against an effort to condemn their property or take it by eminent domain. My bill would ensure the authority trying to condemn or seize the property has to reimburse the property owner for his or her attorney’s fees. With this we can give the little guy a fighting chance against the big company or government that wants to take away his property.

When talking about Grain Belt Express, or any eminent domain project, the thing that cannot and should not be lost in this discussion is the impact decisions like these can have on the lives of Missourians. What sounds like a worthwhile project to one person can result in the loss of a family home for another. For anyone who has worked hard to buy a home or a piece of land, it’s terrifying to think all of that work can be undone by the decisions of government bureaucrats.

This is why I will not rest in my fight to protect the rights of property owners. Eminent domain is an incredibly powerful tool that should be used rarely and only in circumstances where the public good will be served. All Missourians should understand that even the threat of eminent domain is powerful enough to get land owners to sell their land or at a price lower than they deserve. This is why we must be ever watchful to ensure this power isn’t abused or misused.

Sheila Solon is the state representative for the 9th House district in Buchanan and Andrew counties.