Thank you all for coming this morning to the home of Beverly Watson. I want to thank her for letting us gather on her property to talk about an issue that is near and dear to my heart private property rights.
Utahns have a long history of respect and utmost belief in the rights we have as private property owners. In fact, as you will recall our forefathers sacrificed many things, in some cases their very lives, to turn this desert into the prosperous place we call home. Their commitment to come west was born not only out of their desire for religious freedom their dreams also included establishing a place on property that would be free from too much government intrusion. Sadly this dream too often gets interrupted by the nightmare of government bureaucracies that invade people's lives and prevent property owners from using their own property as they see fit.
Last week, the Supreme Court gave an unprecedented amount of authority for governments to seize private property. This decision, Kelo v. New London, for the first time provides Constitutional cover for the power of eminent domain for private economic development. In other words, local governments not only can use their takings powers for their own public uses, but they can now use them for private, non-governmental uses as well.
I found this decision alarming, to say the least. But I would like to point out that the Court's decision does not prohibit legislatively-enacted limits on the exercise of the takings power, nor does it prohibit the legislation I am proposing today, which would grant new powers and resources to property owners who are targeted by Federal eminent domain actions.
I would like to talk more about that, but first let me introduce a group of Utah's strongest advocates for property rights:
And many other state officials and representatives of the many affinity groups in Utah who support this concept.
It's really an honor to be standing with this group this morning. Many of you have created what is becoming known as the Utah Property Rights Model.
In 1997 the Utah legislature took two important steps that have made all the difference for property owners facing condemnation actions by state and local governments. The legislature established a set of rights for property owners, and then provided for a state property rights ombudsman to assist property owners in taking full advantage of those rights.
It's a simple model, but it has been an outstanding success, and it has attracted a lot of positive interest from other states and from government agencies. The Utah model does not change the rules of when eminent domain can be sought by a government agency, but it does provide a dramatic improvement for the property owner once that decision has been made. We will hear more about some of these successes in a moment, and I think they will demonstrate why the Utah model has been so successful.
Unfortunately, the rights the Utah model confers are sorely lacking at the Federal level.
And so, today, I'm announcing my intention of introducing the Empowering More Property Owners with Enhanced Rights Act of 2005, or the EMPOWER Act.
This legislation will apply the Utah Model to the Federal Government, by establishing a Federal Property Owners Bill of Rights and by establishing Federal Ombudsmen to inform the public of their rights and actively work to help property owners take full advantage of those rights.
Under the EMPOWER Act, property owners will be given new access to information relating to the government's assessment of their property and more importantly, they will have the ability to have their case handled by an independent arbitrator. Of the provisions in the bill, these two provisions combined with the power of the ombudsman, have proven to be very effective in empowering property owners.
Once again, Utah is leading the nation on ways we can address important issues that affect our lives each and every day. The rights of private property owners is one of the most important and fundamental rights given to us in our United States Constitution. We can't just ignore this right, or decide in an irresponsible manner that this right really doesn't mean very much in the large framework we call government. We have to create better ways for property owners to protect our properties, as well as provide mechanisms for local, state and national governments to look out for the common good.
I would now like to turn the time over to Beverly Watson and to my good friend Mayor Dolan to tell us how the Utah model worked for them. After their remarks a few of our very important state officials will make brief remarks in this order: Lt. Governor Gary Herbert, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Senate President John Valentine, and Speaker Greg Curtis. After their remarks we will be happy to take your questions.