Washington Lawmakers have a message for any local officials who think farmland on the edge of town might make a nice shopping mall: Seize the property and you'll lose federal funding for your community.
Republicans and Democrats alike want to negate a Supreme Court ruling that gave cities broad power to take private properties for use as shopping malls or other development.
"This potentially could allow a city to go out and confiscate a sugar beet field and turn it into a shopping mall," said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior House Agriculture Committee Democrat.
The committee is holding a hearing today on the most far-reaching of several bills to thwart the high court's ruling. The measure would yank all federal economic development funds from any state, city or town that seizes private property in the name of economic development.
"If they try to do it for private commercial purposes, they lose all their money," said Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, the bill's sponsor. "You lose it across the board if you try to take property for free enterprise purposes and not through the traditional eminent domain purposes."
At issue is the court's 5-4 ruling in June that New London, Conn., could take people's homes for a private development project under the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which allows the seizure of private property if the land is for public use. The court said the city's vision of generating jobs and revenue are a long-accepted function of government.
The ruling is clearly the law of the land and Congress can't change it, said Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., an Agriculture Committee member. But Congress can send a message to communities that they will be punished if they enrich one private party at the expense of another, she said.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., is co-sponsoring the bill with Peterson, Herseth and several other lawmakers.
The measure raises concerns of the National League of Cities, which backed New London before the Supreme Court. Executive Don Borut said it's ironic that those who believe in states' rights turn to the federal government when they don't like a state's actions.
"If there are abuses, they need to be addressed, but to have a blanket, one-size-fits-all rush to judgment at the federal level seems to really be overkill," Borut said. "The fact is, these are decisions that really need to be made at the state level. This is a preemption of local authority."
The agriculture panel is working on the bill because an array of federal dollars come from the Agriculture Department. Funds from Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior and other departments would be withheld.