GONZALES — Legislation giving Ascension Parish government a slower-acting version of the so-called “quick take” expropriation power is headed to a Louisiana House committee Tuesday after clearing the full state Senate.
Sponsored by Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, Senate Bill 703 is set for a hearing before the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure at 11 a.m.
Quick take allows governments to take title to land so projects can proceed but leaves the settlement of the property’s value for later, in court if needed. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and Baton Rouge’s city-parish government have quick take power, officials said.
Ascension Parish officials have said they, too, need quick take to see through proposed sewer and road programs in timely fashion, especially as they deal with landowners who refuse to sell and properties having multiple or absent heirs.
Parish President Tommy Martinez told the Parish Council last month, for example, that a project to improve Worthey Road took four years to finish because a landowner was unwilling to sell.
But SB 703 stirred opposition from some members of the Ascension Parish Council and citizen activists last month even as a majority of council members backed a resolution in favor of the legislation.
The original version was deferred in a Senate committee on April 11 after the Louisiana Landowners Association and Ascension Wastewater Treatment Inc., a major private sewer provider in Ascension, voiced opposition to the bill.
But an amended version was passed by the full Senate on May 16, 24-9.
Amedee said that version tried to address critics’ concerns. It includes up to a 60-day notification period for landowners about pending expropriations and an additional one-year period from that notification before the parish could take possession.
The bill also limits to four years the period of time allowed for the parish to wield the new expropriation power.
It also doubles the time to challenge to the government’s assertion that the land is being taken for a public purpose.
The original bill provided 15 days; the new version provides 30. DOTD’s and the city-parish’s quick take authority provide 20 days to challenge public purpose.
The revised bill also requires a court hearing and judgment that the taking is for a public purpose, even before land value might be settled separately in court.
“We slowed it down, and I’ve done the best I could to just prevent the big-time delay (in expropriation). That is all I am doing,” Amedee said.
On Thursday, members of the Republican Party’s Ascension Parish Executive Committee announced they remain opposed to the bill, having voted against it on May 8 without any dissents.
“Private property is one of the fundamental rights we have in America and part of the Republican Party Platform,” the committee statement says. “These individual liberties should be protected and promoted by all Republicans.”
The group is a policy-setting arm of the parish party organization.
Like Amedee, the bill’s House co-sponsors, state Reps. Johnny Berthelot, Eddie Lambert and Clay Schexnayder, are all Republicans.
The Parish Executive Committee is headed by Kathryn Goppelt, a community activist in Ascension who ran against Martinez last year.
She spoke out against the Parish Council resolution at an April 4 meeting and has been in touch with Amedee about the bill for weeks.
She said the argument about needing quick take for land with multiple heirs is a “red herring” and asserted that parish officials can track those landowners through property tax records.
“They can do it with what they have. They don’t need more powers. I think they will be abused,” Goppelt said.
Amedee said he was aware of the Parish Executive Committee’s concerns, but said he was not getting involved in them.
“I just think this is important if we are going to get serious about getting some sewer in the parish and fixing our roads,” Amedee said. “We’ve got to give the parish more authority to fix our roads and sewer.”