The Mississippi Senate on Thursday sensibly sustained Gov. Barbour’s veto of an assuredly damaging eminent domain reform bill that would have crippled our state’s major manufacturing and industrial recruitment efforts in the name of supposedly endangered personal property rights.
The vote was 28 to override the veto, 22 against. A two-thirds vote in favor was required, so the attempt to negate the governor’s veto and save the bill fell short by six votes.
We agree with Barbour’s veto message explanation that HB 803, the core of the eminent domain reforms, would not have achieved articulated goals of greater protections for personal real estate and would have been a major hindrance in attracting large-scale economic development and jobs creation projects to the state.
Eminent domain empowers government to force owners to sell their land at fair market value for public use, which can be broadly defined.
Rhetoric flowed hot and at length in the debate about HB 803, and the House by a wide margin voted to override.
The Senate sustained the veto with a commendable bipartisan coalition that saw greater merit in the facts strongly presented in Barbour’s veto message.
“If the Mississippi Legislature had set out to devise a law to make it highly unlikely that Mississippi could attract major projects with large numbers of jobs like Nissan, Toyota, PACCAR, Stennis Space Center or facilities along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, House Bill 803 would do the trick,” Barbour said in the message.
The bill excluded previously approved Major Economic Impact Authority projects, but it made no exception for future, similar developments.
At least some of the passion with which eminent domain reform was pursued stems from a 2005 case in Connecticut in which a city took uncondemned residential property and sold it to a developer of more expensive residential real estate. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government, but widespread anger resulted because it was seen as an abuse.
Barbour noted that HB 803 did not address the taking of private property under Mississippi law by other private interests: railroads, pipelines, toll roads, and utilities like electric and telephone companies.
Barbour offered to sign an amended or revised bill that protects MEIA.
Still, care should be taken not to cripple government’s ability to use eminent domain for projects that clearly would produce long-term public benefit.
Reasonable people can disagree – and find grounds for compromise. We believe that’s the outcome needed in the case of eminent domain. The original bill is dead, but a compromise could be crafted.