Bill would raise payments in utility eminent domain cases in rural Missouri

(The Center Square) – The sponsor of a bill strengthening farmer’s rights in eminent domain claims promised similar reforms for all Missourians on Thursday.

Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, joined Republicans from the House, Senate and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in praising House Bill 2005, which would require compensation for agricultural or horticultural land to be 150% of fair market value and determined by a court.

The bill was prompted by cases where utility companies used eminent domain to purchase property owned by farmers and ranchers to construct electric transmission lines and pay little more than market value. Farmers in northern Missouri have attempted to halt or slow the Grain Belt Express, a $2 billion transmission line carrying wind-generated power across the state. The bill also requires any corporations constructing transmission lines to provide a minimum of 50% of the power carried through the line to Missourians to condemn any property to build a line.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, a third-generation farmer who owns and operates a cow and calf operation near Bolivar.

Haffner said the bill was a four-year effort and required collaboration with the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Corn Growers and other organizations. During floor debate, Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, encouraged the House to review the use of eminent domain in urban and suburban areas to clear property to build large shopping centers.

“We’ve got to be consistent in moving forward and looking at the statute across the borders as it applies to eminent domain, especially in the cities,” Haffner told reporters at a press conference.

Haffner said the current rate of paying 125% of market value for homes in eminent domain situations is insufficient.

During committee hearings, labor groups testified the bill would negatively impact construction jobs. Environmental groups said the legislation would impair clean energy to meet the state’s power needs.

“The bottom line is eminent domain was always intended to be used as a last resort for critical needs and infrastructure of the state,” said Mike Deering with the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “It was not intended to be used as way for private companies to take private land for private gain with little to no benefit to the citizens of the state. This legislation is even more critical right now as two more transmission lines are expected to be approved this summer and without this legislation, we would expect that property rights would continue to be trampled.”

Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, estimated that 25% of calls received by his association are complaints and problems regarding eminent domain.

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