House leaders seek limits

House leaders voiced support Thursday for legislation that would prevent state and local governments from taking private property for the benefit of businesses.

They were responding to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a Connecticut law allowing a municipal government to take private property for a private enterprisethat enhanced the city’s tax revenue.

“We feel one of the most important fundamental rights of Mississippi citizens is the guarantee to own property,” said Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville. “We do not believe a large corporation … should be able to take our homes that we have worked hard for all our lives, or to take our farms, businesses or church houses, or even our cemeteries, and just turn them over to large corporations.”

Franks and Judiciary A chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, announced at a state Capitol news conference their intent to address the issue as soon as possible.Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and other House members attended the news conference.

Mississippi is among the states that allow the use of “eminent domain” proceedings to take private property for economic development projects deemed in the public interest. In Mississippi, for instance, land was taken this way for the Nissan manufacturing plant near Canton.

Under eminent domain, property owners are paid what is supposed to be fair-market value, but in some instances owners do not want to sell at any price.

Franks said he believes Nissan still would have been constructed at the Canton site if the state did not use eminent domain to acquire the site. He said the land could have been acquired through the free market system.

Barbour willing’

Pete Smith, a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, said Barbour has followed the Supreme Court ruling and “is willing to work with any and all legislators to protect the rights of property owners.”

Franks, with McCoy concurring, said the issue would “be the first order of business” that the House will tackle in the 2006 session unless Barbour calls a special session for any reason. If a special session is called, Franks said he hopes Barbour adds the issue to the agenda.

Franks said his proposed change in the law and in the Mississippi Constitution, though, would not prevent the common practice of governments’acquiring land for public purposes, such as road construction.

Franks said the Supreme Court ruling left the issue up to the states to address.

In Northeast Mississippi, local governments currently hold options on about 1,700 acres at the Wellspring industrial site between Sherman and Blue Springs at the intersection of Union, Pontotoc and Lee counties.

Three Rivers Planning and Development District director Randy Kelley said a change in state law to prevent eminent domain for private companies would not affect efforts to locate an auto manufacturer there. But Kelley said it could later, if some of the options expire.

Kelley, who is working on developing and marketing the Wellspring site, said he understands the opposition to eminent domain, but noted that it serves a purpose in “unique situations on major economic development projects for a region.”

NE Mississippi Daily Journal
8/5/5