Power to seize land focus of special session

Gov. Haley Barbour will ask the Legislature to regulate eminent domain.
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
The Associated Press
JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour will call a special legislative session and ask the House and Senate to formally regulate the government’s use of eminent domain to take private property for economic development projects.
“It would be a very, very strict process that would have to be accomplished before any private property could be taken,” Barbour said Tuesday at the Capitol.
Barbour told The Associated Press that the special session will take place next week during the regular session.
Lawmakers were being sent letters Tuesday telling them to return to the Capitol at 1 p.m. May 6 to wrap up their 90-day session, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said.
Legislators met from early January to early April, and they’ve been in recess since. The biggest piece of unfinished business is writing a state budget for the year that begins July 1.
Eminent domain is the process government uses to take private land for projects ranging from road construction to industrial development.
Barbour vetoed a bill in March that would’ve almost eliminated the use of eminent domain to take land for private development projects.
He said it was too broad and would’ve put Mississippi at a “catastrophic disadvantage in creating jobs and expanding our economy.”
Property-rights groups, including the politically powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau, are pressuring lawmakers and the governors to tighten restrictions on eminent domain in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed a Connecticut town to condemn private property and take it for a private development.
Since the ruling, at least 43 states have enacted laws to restrict eminent domain, said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice.
The institute, based in Washington, has represented private property owners in fighting the land-taking process.
Barbour said Tuesday that he’ll ask legislators to consider a more narrowly focused plan that would put into state law the process his administration already uses to take private land for job creation.
Any project would have to be approved by the state’s economic agency, the Mississippi Development Authority.
It also would be approved by local authorities, the state House and Senate and the governor.
Barbour said his proposal would not limit the use of eminent domain to take private land for public use such as highway construction or installation of utility lines.
Bryant said the governor’s proposal is “not ideal” because it’s not as broad as the bill Barbour vetoed. Still, Bryant said he believes the new plan will pass.
“We think at this point this is probably the best we can do,” Bryant said as he left Barbour’s office after some ceremonial signings of other bills.
Only a governor can call a special session, and only he can set the agenda.
In this case, calling a special session for eminent domain is logistically simpler than asking lawmakers to file a new bill to consider during the remaining days of the regular session.
Filing a new bill during the regular session would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
Calling a special session during a regular session is an unusual move, but Barbour did it in 2005 for the Medicaid budget.
Barbour said Tuesday there are other subjects he’s considering adding to the upcoming special session agenda, but “nothing earthshaking.”

 

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