Jefferson City, Missouri— Missouri farmers were given more power in eminent domain proceedings by a bill signed into law last weekend.
House Bill (HB) 2005 was signed by Governor Mike Parson, granting greater protection to Missouri landowners in certain eminent domain cases.
Eminent domain refers to the government’s authority to seize private land, with compensation, for public use. In Missouri, that typically means seizing rural farmland for infrastructure projects.
A 2005 Supreme Court case, Kelo v New London, create a precedent that the government can seize private land to sell it to private entities in the name of economic development for public purposes. The decision prompted an outcry for states to establish their own stricter eminent domain rules, which Missouri lawmakers did at the time.
The issue gained additional attention in 2019 after the Missouri Public Service Commission granted the Grain Belt Expressa private entity, empowered to exercise eminent domain to construct its power transmission line through northern Missouri.
The original plan was to build the transmission line beginning in Kansas, accessing Sunflower State wind power, passing through Missouri and Illinois and ending in Indiana to supply renewable energy to the eastern market.
“The question that faced the legislature for many years, what was the fundamental question? Is it fair that eminent domain be used for private purposes? Farmers, ranchers and landowners will say unequivocally that this is not fair,” said Garret Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
“And that was the question we’ve been trying to get answered through legislative action for the past few years – culminating in the culmination of a prominent domain reform package in the last session.”
The bureau’s main concern was the lack of power Missourians would see from the transmission line. HB 2005 addresses this concern, requiring power companies seeking to build infrastructure in Missouri to supply an amount of power proportional to the amount of transmission lines built in the state.
The bill also gives farmers more power in negotiations over their land. The compensation floor is 150% of the fair market value of their land, the fair market value will be determined by the courts.
If a judge decides that “good faith negotiations” did not take place during compensation negotiations, then the case can be dismissed, according to the bill. The condemner will be required to reimburse the owner for the costs incurred.
“So at least one landowner knows upfront because of these changes in state law, they know that trading now looks a little different. And they also know that a project that is proposed must provide a commensurate benefit to the state – that we are not going to be a gateway to reach the lucrative east or west coast markets – they know that their fellow Missouri citizens in will benefit from the project,” Hawkins said.
The bill has certain limitations. The new eminent domain rules in HB 2005 will only affect eminent domain proceedings that take place after August 28th, which means they will have no impact on the Grain Belt Express transmission line.
“The biggest disappointment was that this bill was only supposed to be forward-looking and didn’t capture the bill that really brought attention to the whole issue of power transmission,” Hawkins said.
Invenergy, a Chicago-based sustainable energy company, acquired the Grain Belt Express project in 2018 and promised to deliver more power to Missouri than originally planned.
The bill also only sets specific rules for power transmission lines, not for eminent domain as a whole. According to Hawkins, HB 2005 is a good step forward, but not a panacea.
Hawkins wants to research possible legislative solutions on maintenance procedures for completed infrastructure projects in the future.
“I see a conversation about using eminent domain with respect to other infrastructure projects,” Hawkins said. “I also see a conversation about property rights as it relates to the maintenance of projects in place. And what does this relationship look like between farmers, landowners and utility companies. »
Featured Image: Missouri Farm Bureau Chairman Garrett Hawkins with Sen. Jason Bean and Rep. Mike Haffner in Jefferson City on May 9. Bean and Haffner championed the eminent domain bill in the spring session.
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