Leaders split over power to seize land

JACKSON – A showdown could be brewing between Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Legislature over a plan to restrict eminent domain.
On Wednesday, the state House sent to Barbour a proposal that would severely limit the government’s authority to take private land for use by another private entity.
The governor has expressed strong opposition to the proposal, setting up a possible veto. The Legislature has yet to override any of Barbour’s vetos during his six years in office.
But only three members of the 122-member House voted against the eminent domain proposal Wednesday. It passed the Senate earlier with limited opposition.
While Barbour said he had not yet read the specifics of the legislation, he said the general concept would limit the state’s ability to lure major economic development projects like Nissan or Toyota.
The legislation would not apply to the Toyota plant, which is under construction at Blue Springs, but could affect future projects.
Barbour said any legislation that does not provide the state “the power of eminent domain for major economic impact projects is fatally flawed.”
Barbour said that under current law, the local governments, the Legislature and the Mississippi Development Authority must certify that a facility meets the definition of a “major economic impact project” before the law allows for eminent domain.
Then the decision to declare a major economic project can be challenged in court.
A vast majority of legislators have rejected the governor’s arguments. They say land can be obtained for economic development projects without the forcible taking of private land through eminent domain.
The Legislature has been grappling with the issue since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a government could use eminent domain to take private property for use by another private entity, such as for an economic development project.
But the Supreme Court also said states could limit eminent domain for private developments. Senate Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said more than 40 states had done so.
“The door was opened by the Supreme Court case for the government’s abuse of the eminent domain process for economic development reasons,” Fillingane said. “We simply wanted to close that door.”
Eminent domain is most often used to take land for public use, such as the construction of a road or public building.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal

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