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Mar.3 – House version of Eminent Domain bill passes, but Senate sponsor will recommend more study over the summer

Category: Georgia Business News

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

March 3, 2017 – The House version of a revised Eminent Domain bill passed the Georgia House today, and now moves to the Senate. There is no Senate version as of yet. 

But Senator Frank Ginn from Athens, sponsor of SB 162 – has filed a Senate bill that addresses what property owners of seized land are paid. But, Sen. Ginn said in an interview Wednesday that he will recommend that his bill not be acted on in this session of the General Assembly, but instead go back for more study.  It may be an indication that a Senate vote on changing Eminent Domain law in Georgia, in general, may also be delayed, according to those working on the legislation in the House.

It’s a topic of great interest in Savannah, and is a ‘Legislative Priority’ of the Savannah City Council which has sought improved tools to address blighted properties in many neighborhoods.

House Bill 434 is the primarily eminent domain legislation before the General Assembly this session.

Eminent domain is used by the State of Georgia to improve roadways, where the taking of land “in the public interest,” is often necessary.

Sen. Ginn’s bill focuses on paying property owners a fixed rate over “assessed value,” of 10%, and reasonable attorney’s fees. That bill also is co-sponsored by Sen. Jack Hill of Statesboro/Effingham and Sen. Bill Ligon, from Glynn County. 

Eminent domain has also been a hot topic in its potential use of survey for and potentially building the Palmetto Pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan.   Sen. Ginn chaired the Joint Study Committee that looked at the Palmetto Pipeline issue, a report issued in late January which concluded that pipelines are the safest way to transport fuel. He also chairs the Senate’s Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

And, then there’s the usage by cities and counties across the state to address blighted properties where there is no clear title, often creating a situation where identifying property owners has been difficult – a focus of the Savannah City Council and the Georgia Municipal Assocation, which also supported the house bill.

 In 2006, the General Assembly changed the state’s Eminent Domain laws.  HB 434 revises that bill.  It was reportedly favorably out of committee on Feb. 24, and was passed today, the final ‘cross over day’ of the session. 

HB 424 creates a new Code section that defines a ‘Condemnor’ as a county, municipality, or consolidated government of this state, and defines the use of Eminent Domain for 'Economic development' purposes as “any economic activity to increase tax revenue, tax base, or employment or improve general economic health, when the activity does not result in the transfer of land to public ownership; in the transfer of property to a private entity that is a public utility; or or lease of property to private entities that occupy an incidental area within a public project.

And, the bill defines 'Public use' means the remedy of blight when economic development is a secondary or ancillary public benefit of condemnation.

And, HB 424 establishes the process a ‘Condemnor’ must follow:  they must first petition the superior court of the county having jurisdiction over a blighted property; supply the names and residences of the persons whose property or interests are to be taken; a description of the appearance of the property and any structures on it.

The Superior Court will set a date for property owners to appear, providing at least 30-days notice from the date the petition was filed.  Any property's future use “shall be restricted to the same land use as stated in the order for a period of five years from the date of the order,” versus the current Georgia law that provides for 20 years.

Chatham County Chairman Al Scott, up at the State House this week, working on multiple bills with the county’s delegation, said that he would like to see an Escrow Account set up, managed by the Superior Court, to protect heirs that have not been contacted, part of the “clouded title” problem. 

He adds that he believes there should have been a local public hearing on the bills, due to the high level of interest.

 

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