DoJ: Attorney General Lautenschlager Statement / AB 657 prohibiting non-blighted private property condemnation

For More Information Contact:

Kelly Kennedy 608/266-7876

I commend the Legislature for passing Assembly Bill 657, which prohibits governmental and quasi-governmental entities from condemning non-blighted private property for private development. This bill reflects the concerns I have, and those I heard last year when I met with citizens around the state, about well-healed special interests being able to influence local and county officials and thereby obtain land belonging to our citizens—their homes, their farms, their businesses. I urge the Governor to sign this bill into law.

At the same time, I cannot attribute any rational basis, other than the influence of well-healed special interests, for the swift passage last year of Assembly Bill 437. That bill, which was signed into law, essentially gave utility companies broad condemnation authority for the purpose of obtaining land to construct transmission lines. Privately-owned American Transmission Company is now using this bill to run over local government ownership and protection of public property. Without quibbling about the long-term needs for a better energy infrastructure, it cannot go unnoticed that the type of authority the Legislature is ready to confiscate from elected local officials, it quite willingly granted to utility companies whose executives generously contribute to campaign coffers.

That hypocrisy should not stand in the way of AB 657 becoming law. It does, however, put an exclamation point on the need to carefully examine who is given the power to take property, and why that power is granted to those who hold it.