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Reject flawed property protection bill, philosophy

Everybody says they’re for the state being unable to expropriate land to turn over to private developers for the purposes of economic development, but which of the two approaches currently advancing in the Louisiana Legislature will more assuredly make this reality?

SB 1 by state Sen. Joe McPherson would write into the Louisiana Constitution a prohibition on most kinds of takings for this purpose. By contrast, state Rep. Glenn Ansardi’s HB 30 would amend the Constitution to give the state a broad power to expropriate for these purposes but allow for the state to limit this power on a general or case-by-case basis. Ansardi, however, also offers up HB 1164 which would by statute limit this power along the lines of SB 1 (and, actually, a little more restrictive in specifics although it also gives the state a power to take property it declares “blighted”).

In short, by getting a two-thirds vote in each chamber and a majority vote subsequently by the people, SB 1 would allow for only a few cases where governments could do this; expanding this power would require another constitutional amendment. HB 30 would continue to allow governments to take land for a “public purpose” which can include economic development of the sort of transferring land from one private entity to another, through the same two-thirds Legislative majority and popular simple majority. HB 1164 would duplicate largely SB 1 except it would be passed into law by a simple majority in each chamber and with the governor’s signature (or override by two-thirds vote in each chamber if vetoed) – and thus can be changed by the same combination. Obtaining these majorities and the governor’s assent for passages seem almost certain.

So, note where the better protection of property lays – SB 1. To weaken it would require a huge degree of consensus. By contrast, if HB 30 passes, it validates in the Constitution the interpretation of expropriation as set forth in last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision. While HB 1164 would undo that, its statutory base would allow for easier stripping of protections by its repeal or alteration.

This is because its author wants government to have a general power available to expropriate for economic development purposes in transfer of property from one private entity to another. This is because he believes “that economic development is a good thing. This notion that economic development is something sinister or evil has to be erased.”

But Ansardi fails to understand that with this bill he promotes economic development by government action – which is not the purpose of government nor does it optimally accomplish economic growth. He does not recognize that government does not grow economies – people and firms do, so long as government minimizes its interference in their voluntary market activities. Government’s role is to create an infrastructure to assist in the making of voluntary transactions, not to step in and force such transactions when it thinks it best.

The state’s citizens need the strongest protection possible against government transgressing its proper function. As the facts behind the U.S. Supreme Court case illustrates, politicians in search of actions by them that appear like they are making the economy grow get too tempted to stop themselves from an improper use of government to achieve those questionable ends. For that reason, SB 1 or a bill like it must be supported while HB 30 cannot continue its legislative journey.

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