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Published November 10, 2011, 07:09 AM

Mississippi voters approve eminent domain restrictions

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting governments’ ability to seize property and hand it over to private developers.

By: Jack Elliott Jr., Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting governments’ ability to seize property and hand it over to private developers.

The ballot initiative on the power of eminent domain pitted landowner rights against economic development.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, his economic development chief and many local officials opposed the amendment, which was pushed by the politically powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

The amendment seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state's authority to seize private land for public-use projects, such as streets or bridges.

Leland Speed, leader of the Mississippi Development Authority, unsuccessfully sought to derail the amendment through the courts. The Mississippi Supreme Court ultimately decided it would consider a legal challenge if one is filed after Tuesday's election.

Barbour and Speed have contended that Nissan and Toyota wouldn't have come to Mississippi had eminent domain restraints been in place.

Speed told The Clarion-Ledger that the issue is more complicated than the ballot language allows.

Speed said he plans to challenge the amendment as a private citizen on grounds that it would alter the state Bill of Rights, and that is prohibited by state law.

“This is an action that's being taken in the heat of the moment, by simple majority vote and that's not the way to mess with your constitution,” he said.

The Farm Bureau contends homeowners and landowners deserve protection from the confiscation of their property under the guise of economic development for private companies.

“It is clear that Mississippians feel strongly about protecting their private property rights,” said Farm Bureau President Randy Knight through a spokesman. “We've felt all along that the best way to promote economic development is with a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision in Kelo vs. City of New London that a Connecticut city could take people's homes and turn the property over to a private party to develop the property for its own profit. The court justified this result because the increased tax revenue on the developed property would benefit the public and the use of the property was, therefore, a public use.

Since 2005, more than 40 states have strengthened their private property rights laws to keep property from being taken by eminent domain and used for economic development.

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