In protest to a recent Supreme Court ruling, a group of state legislators has formed a task force to find the best solution for fighting eminent domain in Oklahoma.
Founder of the task force, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said that the purpose behind the group is to create a piece of legislation for next year's session that will best address the new issue. The Supreme Court in the case of Kelo v. City of New London ruled last month that eminent domain can now be used for private development.
"After the Supreme Court announced it's decision regarding the eminent domain issue, several legislators independently announced that each would be introducing legislation to take care of the problem created by the Court," said Jolley. "I'm so pleased to bring together many of those legislators who have a desire to study and jointly introduce the legislation in both the Senate and House to protect Oklahomans from the potential harm which abuse of eminent domain represents."
Jolley was joined by Tulsa Republicans Rep. Mark Liotta and Rep. Pam Peterson for a press conference
Tuesday at the Capitol announcing the formation of the task force.
"Among other things, we’re going to study the impact of the ruling on the residents of New London to determine what action our state legislature needs to take. We will add the necessary provisions to the bill that is drafted for next session to protect Oklahoma's property owners," said Liotta. "There are already several other states working diligently to right this wrong and we're with them."
The legislators pointed out that the Supreme Courts in at least eight other states including those in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington have overturned the federal Supreme Court decision. These state courts have forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight.
"This task force is our way of reassuring our citizens that we're serious about dealing with this issue," said Peterson. "We're afraid that the ruling could threaten more than home ownership; issues like water and mineral rights as well as any other rights dealing with real property could be affected. We want to make sure that our citizens and everything they work hard for is protected."
The task force will also include William M. Tabb, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma who specializes in environmental law and remedies, along with Brandon Dutcher, who is vice president for policy for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and Jeramy Rich, the Director of Public Policy for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, was unable to attend the press conference but will also be a member of the newly formed task force.
"This court decision is a serious blow to the rights of individual property owners and we want to create a piece of legislation that will give greater protection to our citizens," said Crain. "It's one thing to use private property to build schools and safer roads but to seize private property for private economic development is a blatant abuse of power that has to be stopped."
Jolley said the task force will report by August on how the state legislature can best solve this problem.
"We want to make sure that every concerned Oklahoman knows that this team of legislators and private citizens are already at work to ensure that the legislation we introduce this fall will be well-researched and thought out to make sure the right to own property is protected in this state."