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House moves forward with bill limiting use of eminent domain

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House has given approval to a bill that would prevent private companies from using eminent domain.

On Tuesday, during perfection, the chamber spent the majority of an hour stating the importance of protecting private property rights and lambasting the use of eminent domain by private companies. Then, on Thursday, lawmakers reiterated their stances as they voted 115-35 to send the measure to the Senate. 

The bill that sparked the discussion, HB 1062, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, proposes that no private entity has the power of eminent domain for the purposes of constructing above-ground merchant lines.

“I am not opposed to green energy,” Hansen said. “I’m so opposed to a private company saying ‘I’m gonna do this and you’re gonna like it, or else.'”

The measure is in direct response to the Missouri Public Service Commission approving the construction of high voltage power line intent to move wind energy from Kansas to Indiana and east, with a portion being dropped off in Missouri.

The project contends it would deliver about 4,000 megawatts of renewable power and clean energy to about 1.6 million homes per year and create new jobs — including both permanent and temporary construction work.

In March, the PSC granted the Green Belt Express Clean Line a certificate of convenience and necessity to construct and manage a new transmission line that will develop renewable energy and facilitate economic growth in the state.

The line, transferring 4,000 megawatts of wind energy, will extend throughout eight Missouri counties: Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe, and Ralls. The line will pass through the property of 739 Missourians.

Since the PSC deemed a need of service and that the line was in the public interest, it enables them to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.

However, lawmakers in the House see the company as a private entity that is not in the benefit of the state of Missouri.

“That’s like putting lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig,” said Hansen. He added that at the end of the day, it is a private entity taking Missourians’ land for private profit and benefit.

“The whole problem of using eminent domain for the purpose economic development is it stripped away rights and making a mockery of eminent domain,” said Rep. Jeff Shawan.

The sentiments were echoed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. However, a few representatives took issue with the narrow focus of the bill.

“I think we are starting to go in the direction of picking winning and losers,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery. “For the first time ever, the General Assembly is attempting to meddle in this.”

“If it was about reforming eminent domain, I might be in support of this,” Rep. Peter Merideth said. “I don’t like eminent domain.”

He went to say the bill is narrowly focused to apply to a single company. Merideth said he would support limiting private companies in general profiting off the use of eminent domain, or raising the bar to prove public benefit in order to use eminent domain, or increase the landowners compensate.

“Don’t just respond to one project we may or may not like,” said Merideth.

Reacting to the passage of the bill on Thursday, Duncan Kincheloe, MPUA President and General Manager, stated, “This hurried vote of the Missouri House of Representatives stands in the way of low energy costs for consumers, businesses, and more than 350,000 Missourians. If this measure becomes law, it begs the question, ‘Is Missouri closed to economic investment, infrastructure and progress?’”