ST. PAUL – Governor Pawlenty has signed legislation I authored to increase fairness for Minnesota landowners involved in an eminent domain process with utility companies. The law repeals the special exemptions for eminent domain given to utility companies involving high-voltage transmission lines and natural gas and petroleum pipelines.
This new law is a victory for individual property rights and for all Minnesotans. Fairness and respect for property owners put in extremely difficult situations has prevailed.
Previously, “public service corporations” (PSC) were exempted from Minnesota regulations and restrictions designed to protect landowners in eminent domain disputes. This exemption has created a paradox in state law that is unfair to Minnesota property owners.
If a non-profit entity like the state government wants to use your land for a public park, you have far more protections than if a for-profit utility company wants to run a high-voltage power line through your property. In the interest of fairness to Minnesota’s property owners, we are simply holding these specific utility companies to the same standard we hold our own government.
The new law ensures that utility companies involving high-voltage transmission lines and natural gas and petroleum pipelines must pay for the attorney fees of prevailing landowners if the final award for damages in an eminent domain proceeding exceeds the last offer made by the acquiring authority by 40 percent or more.
Several other new protections include:
- Appraisal and negotiation requirements: Acquiring authority must obtain one or more appraisals before commencing an eminent domain proceeding and furnish copies to the property owner when an offer is made. Inform the property owner of the property owner’s right to obtain an appraisal, paid for by the acquiring authority, up to a maximum amount. Make a good faith attempt to negotiate personally with the property owner to acquire the property through direct purchase. Give advance notice to the property owner of its intent to use an appraisal or documentation related to loss of going concern at a condemnation commissioners’ hearing.
- Contents of notice of petition for taking: Specifies that an eminent domain notice given by an acquiring authority to a property owner must state that the taking may be challenged in person at the court hearing or by appeal within 60 days and that a court order is final unless appealed within 60 days of service of the order.
- Compensation for loss of going concern: Requires an owner of a business or trade destroyed by a taking to be compensated for loss and allows a party to appeal the amount awarded.
- Minimum compensation: Specifies that an owner forced to relocate must receive minimum damages that allow the owner to purchase a comparable property in the community.
- Limitations on condemning authority’s actions: Prohibits the acquiring authority from requiring the owner to accept as part of the compensation any substitute or replacement property, or to accept the return of any portion of the acquired property.
- Limit on relocation benefits: Provides that relocation benefits to a displaced business shall be in accord with federal regulations, but establishes a maximum of $50,000 that those regulations do not contain.
- Relocation assistance determined by administrative law judge: Allows a person rejecting the acquiring authority’s offer of relocation benefits to initiate a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge, whose decision is final.
This legislation is a direct response to the proposed CapX 2020 line that is moving forward that will affect many regions of the state. The CapX 2020 line will go from Brookings to Hampton affecting Minnesotans in Lincoln County in the west through, Scott, Rice, Dakota and Goodhue counties and points south toward the Wisconsin border.
The CapX 2020 power lines are moving forward as we speak and it’s critical we ensure that the rights of Minnesota property owners are protected.
Thanks to my constituents and all Minnesotans who spoke up about their concerns about this issue.
We never would have built the bipartisan coalition needed to pass this new law had it not been the citizens across the state who spoke up and contacted their legislators. This is a great example of our democracy in action.