Progress and Property Rights
When many people think of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, they envision someone sitting on the witness stand in a courtroom refusing to testify against themselves during a trial. But if you look a little closer, the Fifth Amendment also lays out an incredibly important right for property owners, “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Constitution protects Americans from having their property unfairly taken from them by the government, laying out an important right for anyone who owns a home, farm or any piece of land.
While the Fifth Amendment provides important protections for property owners, the state and federal government, local municipalities and others have a tool to acquire private land for public use. Commonly known as eminent domain, this refers to the power of local, state and federal government agencies to take private property and use it for public purposes. Typically, eminent domain is used for infrastructure improvements such as roads, bridges, utilities and other projects designed to benefit the public good; however, it is important to point out that groups who use eminent domain are required to pay fair market value, and in some situations even more, for the private property they are acquiring. While no one wants to be subject to eminent domain, in some circumstances, it is the only way for government agencies to acquire the land needed for important and necessary infrastructure projects.
Here in Missouri, our eminent domain laws were last updated in 2006, and I believe now is the time to reform the way this tool is used in our state going forward. The use of eminent domain should be a rare occurrence, not a way for wealthy corporations to take someone’s land that isn’t for sale — Missouri is not a construction site for out-of-state companies. It should be reserved for critical infrastructure upgrades that provide vital services to the community surrounding the project. When used, eminent domain projects should be built in a timely and appropriate manner, and affected property owners should be paid more than fair market value for their assets. In addition, agencies using this tool must be transparent with the affected landowners of their intentions, required to consider alternative routes and do everything in their power to avoid using eminent domain — it should be a last resort.
As a state, we should encourage government agencies, communities and property owners to find suitable solutions to land disputes involving infrastructure upgrades. I firmly believe every avenue must be exhausted before government agencies are allowed to take private land for public use — even in the name of progress. A community shouldn’t have to choose between protecting the property rights of landowners and providing critical infrastructure upgrades to its citizens; I believe we can do both, and it’s time to find a way forward on this issue.
It is an honor to serve our community in the Missouri Senate. If you have any other questions or concerns about your state government, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (573) 751-3678 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org — we are honored to serve you.