President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan today announced the formation of an official Oklahoma State Senate interim study committee to look into the issues surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month on the use of eminent domain.
The study committee was one of seven formed by the Senate leader Wednesday.
“Private property ownership is one of the fundamental American liberties on which this country was founded. I have asked this interim study committee to determine what changes can be made to Oklahoma statutes that will further protect private property owners in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Connecticut case,” Morgan said.
Late last month the Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London, that the municipality was within its authority to utilize the doctrine of eminent domain to force private property owners to sell their land to make way for a private development.
Eminent domain has been used by governmental entities both small and large to make way for projects that have clearly had a “public purpose” like interstate highways and public schools.
In Kelo, the Supreme Court expanded the previously accepted definition to include private developments if a development can provide economic benefits to the community. The Court, however, said states could tighten restrictions on eminent domain.
“This latest Supreme Court decision has opened the door to a new battleground in a centuries-old conflict. Balancing a perceived public purpose against the rights of an individual is an issue Americans have struggled with for more than 200 years. I have asked the interim study committee to craft legislation that will narrowly define when eminent domain is appropriate in Oklahoma, giving guidance to government officials and greater peace of mind to private property owners,” Morgan said. “Corporate America and government entities shouldn’t assume this decision by the Court will allow them to ride roughshod over private property owners in Oklahoma in their quest to maximize profits and tax revenue.”
The study will be conducted by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and five other Senators who have requested legislation that would further protect private property from eminent domain claims by governmental sub-divisions.
Senator Daisy Lawler, who requested the interim study, will co-chair the committee with Judiciary Chairman Charlie Laster.
Laster, D-Shawnee, and Lawler, D-Comanche, will be joined in the study by Judiciary Committee members Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City; Randy Bass, D-Lawton; Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; Todd Lamb, R-Edmond; Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne; Cal Hobson, D-Lexington; Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow; and James Williamson, R-Tulsa.
In addition to the co-chairs and the members of the Judiciary Committee, Morgan appointed four other Senators who have requested bills dealing with the eminent domain issue to the study committee: Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City; Mary Easley, D-Tulsa; Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta; and Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore.
The other interim committees approved by the Senate leader Wednesday spanned a wide variety of issues.
Overweight Trucks on County Roads, requested by Senator Don Barrington, will be studied by the Transportation Committee.
The Office of Juvenile Affairs and its Management, requested by Senator Kenneth Corn, will be studied by the combined Appropriations Sub-Committees on Human Services and Public Safety and Judiciary.
An AIDS Drug Assistance Program, requested by Senator Charlie Laster, will be studied by the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Health Social Services and Senator Laster.
Education and Education Programs in Oklahoma Prisons, requested by Senator Daisy Lawler, will be studied by the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Public Safety and Senator Lawler.
Reporting of Infectious Diseases, requested by Senators Debbe Leftwich and David Myers, will be studied by the Health and Human Resources Committee and Senator Myers.
Teachers’ Retirement, requested by Senator Susan Paddack, will be studied by the combination of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Education, the Retirement and Group Health Committee and Senator Paddack.
The Senate has no deadline for interim study requests and Morgan said he expects that a second round of interim studies could be approved as soon as next week with others being added in the coming months