23 May 2006

Floor action, May 23: HB 30, SB 1

It’s hard to get away from appropriations or expropriations these days in the Legislature. HB 30 would permit government to set parameters constitutionally to restrict government’s ability to expropriate, if passed by the voters into the Constitution. Essentially, it would prevent expropriation of unblighted private property for use by another private entity unless it were by a port authority.

Speaker Joe Salter offered an amendment to define a “homestead” that would protect homes that qualified for a homestead exemption expropriated for economic development purposes, except for ports. It was adopted without objection. This would write one very comprehensive, but not total, constitutional protection for a home, but not for property around it.

Author Rep. Glenn Ansardi argued that combining this bill with HB 992 which defined what could be expropriated. The state would have the constitutional authority to enact restrictions under HB 30, and HB 992 provides them.

Rep. Jim Tucker asked the difference between this bill and SB 1, which places all sorts of restrictions on expropriation. He argued HB 30 relied more on statutory solutions, while SB 1 would write into the Constitution more fixed restrictions. Ansardi said SB1 would create more questions than answers.

Rep. Mike Powell argued there was a fundamental philosophical difference between in and SB 1. He said the Constitution’s purpose was to prevent government from taking rights from the people, so it was appropriate venue for protection from expropriation. “The exception swallows the rule,” he noted.

Under criticism from supporters on this point, Rep. Taylor Townsend said that SB 1 still allowing expropriation for industrial expansion purposes was consistent with the intent of the people at the time the Constitution was written, as evidenced by their affirmative vote. Thus, it should remain in the Constitution.

Other supporters said in this time of need government should have maximal flexibility to do things necessary for economic development. Other opponents argued the right was too basic to allow government to do this, that this placed too much trust in government.

Closing, Ansardi argued his bill would provide more protection than SB 1 because, now amended, industrial reasons no longer would be valid in most cases. The bill failed 28-67.

On to the second half of the doubleheader, SB 1, the House went, which largely had been debated in absentia. Rep. Peppi Bruneau pointed out that currently "public purpose" was too broad so SB 1 was necessary to define in the Constitution that term in a way that maximally protected liberty. Bruneau also said amendments were forthcoming that would provide even more protections, including dealing with the industrial purposes exception.
One included a homestead provision similar to that under HB 30, except encompassing 160 rather than 5 acres, even from industrial takings.

Ansardi proposed an amendment which would make an exception for economic development districts. Opponents said this provided no protection, since the Legislature could create these by majority votes without any direct oversight by the people. This, they said, gutted the bill. Ansardi said this approach would maximize the ability to promote economic development. The amendment failed 15-75.

Ansardi then spoke on the bill, saying the bill was a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that doesn’t exist in Louisiana. Just because it “could happen” wasn’t justification enough to limit the Legislature’s discretion. He urged looking to other legislation to deal with the issue.

Debate was cut off and Bruneau let Rep. Pete Schneider close by reciting the old Mark Twain aphrosim, “no man’s property … is safe when the legislature is in session.” Bruneau said there’s no reason to wait for something to do happen: “Economic development is a good thing, but expropriation as discussed is a bad thing … don’t let vultures profit from the misery of our citizens. Let’s rebuild this state right, by not trampling on people’s rights.”

The bill passed 89-3.

"That's what we ought to do with this bill -- flip it"
Bruneau, saying HB 30 would allow too much flipping of real estate for economic gain.

"Mr. Bruneau said he took his medicine today, so we all ought to be safe."
Schneider, after Bruneau finished his opening of debate for SB 1.

“My colleagues have urged me to give up, but I’m not.”
Ansardi, after a string of voting defeats, speaking against SB 1.

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