By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has vigorously pushed for the passage of Initiative 31, which it says will strengthen property owner protections in the state’s eminent domain laws.
Farm Bureau President Randy Knight, joined by other members and supporters, held a press conference at the Lee County Courthouse on Monday morning, calling for voters to vote “yes” on the initiative on next Tuesday’s ballot.
“This isn’t an agriculture issue, it’s a private-property rights issue,” he said. “It affects people in small towns with small plots and small tracts of land as much as agriculture with huge plots and large tracts of land.”
Knight said the current eminent domain laws in the state haven’t been abused, but the initiative will help protect landowners in the future by curtailing governments’ ability to use eminent domain – or the forced sale of property at a fair market price – to transfer property to another private entity.
“You don’t buy fire insurance for your home after it burns, you buy it before it burns,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do in Mississippi, protect property owners down the road.”
Supporters of Initiative 31 say it will greatly reduce the chances that eminent domain will be used to take land for economic development purposes. It requires any government entity that gets land for economic development to hold the land for 10 years before turning it over to the developer.
They also say Initiative 31 does not affect the traditional uses of eminent domain, including acquiring property for roads, bridges, utilities and schools.
“This is not about economic development,” said David Waide, past president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau. “It’s about an individual’s right to protect property because our forefathers gave us that right in the founding of this great nation. You’ve got an opportunity on Nov. 8 to vote yes on the initiative because it give you your rights to retain your property and stop eminent domain.
“It will protect everybody’s private property, those individuals who don’t have the financial means to battle in court for their property.”
Gov. Haley Barbour, who has vetoed eminent domain legislation in the past, has continued to lobby against the initiative, saying it would hamper economic development efforts.
Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, has called the initiative a “job killer” and staff members of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation have publicly spoken against it.