Eminent domain bill with broad support stalled in House

UPDATE: NOW STALLED IN SENATE. After nearly an hour-long debate on Friday, March 21, the House approved HB 31 by a 75-16 vote (see how they voted HERE). Rep. John Tilley and Rep. David Floyd argued passionately for the bill while several legislators representing the Bluegrass Pipeline partners argued in opposition. Now the bill is stalled in the Senate, where Republican leaders won't let it move.

Legislation to clarify that landowners have the right to decline easements for private pipeline projects across their land has been stuck in the Kentucky House.

After two meetings in February, the House Judiciary Committee approved a committee substitute for House Bill 31. The vote was 11-1 on February 26, with 11 votes being the minimum needed. Nine members of the committee were either absent or abstained from voting.

Since then the bill has lingered in the House, with supporters wondering who is holding up their bill from a vote in the full House.

Bill sponsors Reps. John Tilley and David Floyd have worked hard to win support for HB 31, including considering several approaches to address the immediate problem faced by landowners in the path of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline, as well as the broader problem of the lack of clarity in the law around the use of eminent domain by private pipeline companies.

Some other legislators want to go further and remove the special eminent domain powers that oil and gas companies currently enjoy.

Seven floor amendments, both friendly and unfriendly, had been filed. The most recent one, filed by Rep. Tommy Thompson, would exempt the Bluegrass Pipeline from the provisions of HB 31.

The committee substitute approved by the committee defines natural gas liquids, a byproduct of natural gas extraction, as a product distinct from “oil or gas products.” That distinction is needed because the General Assembly has previously granted special privileges to oil and gas companies to use eminent domain for their wells and pipelines.

Developers of the proposed Bluegrass Hazardous Liquids Pipeline – which would provide no public use for Kentuckians – have claimed that they have eminent domain rights under this and other statutes. This has been used to pressure landowners into thinking they have no option but to allow the company access to their land.

Several landowners testified to this effect during the two standing-room-only Judiciary Committee hearings.

Joe Boone of Nelson County said that even though he has sent three certified letters telling the pipeline company that it does not have permission to be on his land and he will not grant an easement, the Bluegrass Pipeline LLC has surveyed neighbors’ property on opposite sides of Boone’s farm, coming right up to the property line. His farm is the land they need to complete the path.

“Those survey stakes are still in place leading up to my property lines,” Boone said. “That greatly concerns me and it should all Kentuckians that a private company could even consider forcing landowners to give up rights to their land.

“All of this worry would be unnecessary if Kentucky’s law was clarified so that it was clear that private companies that provide no public benefit are not allowed to condemn the property of Kentuckians.”

Cindy Foster of Scott County had a similar story. She said she asked a company land agent if they would use eminent domain if it came to that and was told that they would.

She described herself and her husband as “people who have worked all of our adult lives for one little piece of earth we would like to hand down to our children.”

The Kentucky Oil and Gas Association, Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers and some unions are actively opposing the bill.

ACTION: Call the Legislative Message Line at 800-372-7181 and leave a message for Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo and Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins that "It's time to bring House Bill 31 to the foor for a vote." Also leave a message for your own representative to "Support House Bill 31 and Floor Amendment #5."

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