Since the decision by the United States Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London many states across the country have taken measures to help protect the rights of private ownership. The controversial Kelo decision held that a local government can take the private property of one person and give it to another private entity. While the Court’s ruling was seen by many as a serious blow to citizen’s constitutionally protected rights of private property, the decision prompted a number of states to initiate legislative reform to help curb eminent domain abuse.
The Castle Coalition has released a report, grading each of the states based on their efforts to protect private property owners and their rights based on changes in their respective state laws. The Castle Coalition is the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots property rights activism project that teaches home and small business owners how to protect themselves and stand up to abuse by governments and developers who seek to use eminent domain to take private property for their own gain. Stated below is the letter grade, as given by the Castle Coalition, along with a description of the changes that have occurred since Kelo v. City of New London.
Tennessee created a state commission to study eminent domain after the 2005 landmark case, but unfortunately, the commission did not serve its purpose in helping curb eminent domain abuse. In 2006, the state legislature passed two bills, where both bills hardly symbolized improvement for the state.
House Bill 3450 (Senate Bill 3296) made slight improvements to the definition of “blight”, and also modified the state’s definition of public use to exclude economic development. Then, House Bill 3700 was passed, which removed requirements that were previously set in place that required condemning authorities to obtain approval from the governing body of the affected county prior to commencing a condemnation proceeding. Unfortunately, House Bill 3700 symbolized a major regression for the state in concerns of eminent domain.
The state of Tennessee has seen very little reform since Kelo v. City of New London, despite a few legislative bills being passed and an eminent domain commission put in place. Property owners in Tennessee are still vulnerable to eminent domain abuse because the state’s definition of blight is vague, and condemning authorities have more freedom when it comes to commencing eminent domain proceedings and the process in which that takes place.
In order to see full protection, the state needs a commission in place that will push for legislation that will tighten the state’s definition of blight and also reinforce notification rules for condemning authorities to abide by when condemning private property. Click to read more information on House Bill 3450 (Senate Bill 3296), and to read more on House Bill 3700.