What: All Issues : Environment : Clean Water/Water Conservation : HR 146. (Public lands bill) Motion to kill an amendment that would prohibit eminent domain from being used to acquire land under the bill/On the motion
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HR 146. (Public lands bill) Motion to kill an amendment that would prohibit eminent domain from being used to acquire land under the bill/On the motion
senate Roll Call 103     Mar 18, 2009
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This vote was on a motion to kill an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that would prohibit lands the bill would acquire from being taken through eminent domain.  Eminent domain is a process through which the government can force a property owner to sell their land to the government.  The government typically must have a pressing public use need for the space (such as expanding a significant roadway) and must pay the property owner a fair market value for their land.  The amendment was offered to a bill that would expand wilderness areas and national parks by more than two million acres.

Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Coburn’s amendment is good, and that “all the land acquisition under this bill has been accomplished through the cooperation of all parties—willing sellers, willing buyers—and there is no need for condemnation of any property, no need for eminent domain. 

“Believing [my] staff is correct, and, therefore, that it is not necessary, it seems to me it establishes a good principle to say that where there is no need for it, we should not authorize eminent domain to acquire land against a landowner’s wishes,” Kyl said.

Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said there are water projects included in the bill that are very important, and that, contrary to what Kyl has said, the Bureau of Reclamation may need to use eminent domain in order to realize some of these projects.

“My colleague from Arizona, I am sure, takes great pride in the Central Arizona project. It is very doubtful that project could have been accomplished had not the Federal Government had eminent domain authority. That is true of these water projects in this legislation as well,” Bingaman said.  “So we should not be writing provisions in here that take that tool away from our Federal land managers and particularly the Bureau of Reclamation, and that is exactly what the effect of this amendment would be.”

Coburn said even the threat of eminent domain can be used to intimidate property owners, and that it is Congress’ responsibility to protect them.

“This is about protecting one of the most important principles of our country: the right to have and hold property. This is an issue under which we either accept the rights of individuals to hold property or we say the Government knows better,” Coburn said.

By a vote of 63-35, the Senate agreed to the motion.  All but four Democrats present voted for the motion.  Of Republicans present, 10 voted for the motion and 31 voted against it.  The end result is that the motion carried, the amendment was killed, and the bill went forward without language that would have prohibited land acquired under the bill from being subject to eminent domain.

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