Eminent Domain Restrictions Fail During Special Session at Miss. Capitol

Fri May 15, 2009 - Southeast Edition
Emily Wagster Pettus - ASSOCIATED PRESS

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to restrict the government’s taking of private property died May 7 as Mississippi lawmakers ended a special session without considering his plan.

The special session lasted only a few hours, and it took place at the same time as an ongoing regular session.

Barbour called the unusual session-within-a-session so lawmakers could consider items that had already died during the regular session earlier this year.

The governor controls the agenda of a special session. He said it was simpler to call a special session than it would’ve been to revive an issue that had already died. Reviving an issue takes a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate.

Some lawmakers said they were confused as the House and Senate flip-flopped between the regular meeting and the special meeting. At one point, a senator asked Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant to explain what would be different when the special session went on break and the regular one was gaveled back to order.

“I’m going to go in and change coats and come back out,’’ Bryant joked.

The House and Senate passed one bill on the special session agenda. It would give county supervisors more leeway to spend local tax money on roads and bridges.

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 key U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That decision in 2005 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.

In the special session, Barbour was asking 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 have limited the use of eminent domain to take private land for public use such as highway construction or installation of utility lines.

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