Sen. Johnson Comes Full Circle

It looks like state Sen. Eric Johnson now resides in that political no-man's land we call the irony-free zone.

Johnson, a Savannah Republican who effectively controls the Georgia Senate, announced last week that he has formed a legislative study committee to find ways to "protect the rights of private property owners" in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent bombshell ruling that the city of New London, Conn., could use eminent domain as an economic development tool.

The high court's contentious 5-4 decision understandably has been assailed by Libertarians and property-rights advocates because it clears the way for local governments to seize homes, businesses and other private land, and then turn the property over to private developers who build projects that will increase the local tax base.

If any of this is making you experience déj vu, you're not alone. The principle behind the Supreme Court's ruling is essentially the same one behind the now-notorious Senate Bill 5 floated during Georgia's most recent general assembly.

Pitched as a creative way to encourage public-private development, SB 5 in reality would have allowed developers to submit secret proposals for projects that depend on the taking of private property. The bill also would have relaxed the restrictions on the use of eminent domain power, making it easier for local governments to grab private land for commercial development.

Although its hapless sponsor, Sen. Dan Moody, R-Alpharetta, took much of the heat for SB 5, he played the patsy for the bill's most prominent backers, Gov. Sonny Perdue and Senate President Pro Tempore Johnson, who left his longtime architectural firm last year to become - you guessed it - a developer.

When SB 5 blew up in the GOP's face, Johnson and other Senate supporters quickly stepped away as if it were a flaming bag of doggie doo-doo. Many, including Johnson, tried to save face by loudly endorsing SB 86, a GOP-penned measure that provided new property-owner protections against eminent domain.

In a press statement released last week, Johnson said the formation of the new study committee - composed of six Republicans, including himself, and a lone Democrat - was needed in response to the Supreme Court ruling "to determine what state powers remain to protect the rights of property owners."

Perhaps the committee also could determine if Georgians' memories really are as short as Johnson assumes.??

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