HARRISBURG, PA — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would help landowners better understand their rights when facing eminent domain claims, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Rafferty (R-44).
The legislation would help clarify the rights of landowners like those impacted by the Sunoco Mariner East pipeline construction. Many landowners in southeastern Pennsylvania have cited an inadequate response by the company regarding reports of sinkholes, private water well pollution and waterway contamination.
Senate Bill 1199 would establish a Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights that details the rights of a property owner whose property may be acquired by a governmental or private entity through eminent domain authority.
“Pipeline construction can lead to a number of economic benefits, but a number of extremely troubling problems have been reported with the installation of this particular pipeline,” Rafferty said. “In too many cases, the company has demonstrated a total disregard for the rights of homeowners. It is critical for lawmakers to do our part to ensure these landowners can use every option at their disposal to have these problems addressed.”
Eminent domain laws allow a government or private entity to go through a legal process to acquire private property for public use. The process can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating for landowners, Rafferty said.
“Property rights are protected by both the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions. However, when the Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”) granted Sunoco, a private corporation, the right of eminent domain for the building of their Mariner pipelines these rights were ignored. The citizens of Pennsylvania need and deserve to have a Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights,” said Senator Andy Dinniman, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1199.
“Many landowners do not have the financial resources to consult an attorney when facing an eminent domain claim,” Rafferty said. “At the very least, any Pennsylvania landowner facing eminent domain should be provided with an adequate explanation of the process so they can understand all options that may be available going forward.”
Under Rafferty’s bill, the Pennsylvania Property Owner’s Bill of Rights would be prepared by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and made available publically online. A copy would also be presented to each affected landowner before any entity acquires the property.
Rafferty also sponsored Senate Resolution 373, which was approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee last week. The measure would create a bipartisan, bicameral legislative commission that would be charged with recommending improvements and developing legislation to enhance the safety, oversight and interagency coordination in the transport of oil, natural gas and other hazardous liquids through pipelines in the Commonwealth.
Source: John C. Rafferty Jr. (R), Pennsylvania State Senate, Senate District 44
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