Session over land seizures spurs doubts

JACKSON – Key advocates of legislation to keep the government from taking private land for the use of other private entities aren’t sure the issue can be resolved in a special session that Gov. Haley Barbour said he will call.
The governor announced last week that he plans to take the unusual step of calling a special session while the Legislature already is in regular session working on the state budget, starting Wednesday.
During the special session within the regular session, he will ask the Legislature to consider a proposal to limit the ability of the government to take private land for economic development purposes.
Earlier during the current 2009 session, Barbour vetoed legislation that would have done just that.
He opposed the legislation because he wants an exception to allow the government to take private land, at a market value price, for major economic development projects, such as a car manufacturing plant.
He has said that Toyota would not have come to Mississippi if the legislation he vetoed had been in effect at the time.
The House overrode the governor’s veto of the eminent domain legislation, but the Senate could not garner the two-thirds majority needed to override.
To obtain the votes of enough senators to have his veto upheld, he promised that he would call a special session for them to have the opportunity to consider a new bill.
But many question how successful that effort will be.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, which represents about 227,000 families, supported the legislation vetoed by Barbour.
“If they come out with a bill that takes land for economic development purposes,” said Greg Gibson, Farm Bureau communications, “we will not support it.”
Anticipating that any legislation passed during the special session would have an exception for major economic development projects, Gibson said the Farm Bureau board has voted unanimously to continue with a planned initiative effort.
The state’s initiative law allows people to bypass the Legislature and have issues placed on the election ballot.
It is not clear whether any bill, with or without the exception for major economic development projects, will pass during the special session. House leaders might opt to not take up anything, knowing Barbour would veto their preference of legislation that does not include any exceptions.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said, “We’re going to look at the governor’s call, but I can tell you the advocates outside the Capitol for eminent domain and the advocates inside the Capitol for meaningful eminent domain reform are not interested in a watered-down version. We liked what we passed, but we will have to see what we do in special session.”
Senate Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he too supported the version vetoed by the governor, but said in the spirit of passing something, “I anticipate the Judiciary A Committee looking at some language the governor supports.”
But when asked if he would oppose any efforts to amend the governor’s bill to include language to prevent the government from taking land for major projects, he said, “I don’t know. We will have to take a look at it.”
More than 40 states have toughened their laws to prevent the taking of land for economic development projects since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this decade that allowed a Connecticut city to take land for retail development.
Mississippi’s legislation does not attempt to end the use of eminent domain for public sector projects such as road or school construction.
The bill vetoed by Barbour was the first that had passed both chambers of the Legislature.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

 

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal