Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said February 18 two issues with the potential to cause a stir would dominate the second half of the 2008 legislative session: voter ID and eminent domain.
Bryant was the keynote speaker at a Capitol Press Corps luncheon held at Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson and sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
He highlighted some of the bills the state Senate has passed since lawmakers convened in January, among them the bill shortening the session, the ability for voters to watch live proceedings on the Internet, the passage of ethics reform, a performance review for state agencies and Gov. Haley Barbour’s appointment of a commission to study the state’s tax code.
But, besides the budget and how it would fund Medicaid and education, Bryant said voter ID and eminent domain would take center stage at the Capitol.
Bryant admitted that voter ID, various forms of which have failed several times before in the Legislature, leads to a “lot of upset nervous systems.”
He said that’s the same reaction he expects when the state’s eminent domain laws come up for debate. Bryant stressed a common-sense approach when it comes to the rights of property owners and the state’s need for economic development.
“It’s so important to protect property rights,” Bryant said. “We want to be reasonable with large projects like Nissan and Toyota.”
Negotiations between private landowners and the state got ugly when the state was securing land for the Nissan plant in Canton. Tempers flared at public meetings and landowners filed lawsuits. Settlements were eventually reached, paving the way for the plant to begin operation in 2003.
Striking a balance
There is a delicate balance that must be struck in an effort to treat property owners fairly and at the same time make a good faith effort to promote an economic development project, Bryant said.
“We don’t want to be taken off the list (of a major manufacturer trying to secure a site for a project) because of our eminent domain laws,” Bryant said. “On the other hand, to take someone’s home for a strip mall, that’s not going to happen. It has to be a huge thing with major job-creation numbers.”
The Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR) recently unveiled its legislative priorities for the 2008 session, and eminent domain was one of the issues.
The packet the MAR gave to legislators outlines the association’s stance on eminent domain.
“MAR is opposed to any legislation regarding eminent domain that would completely eliminate the potential use of this process for any and all economic development projects,” the release said. “However, MAR does support legislation that clarifies the public purpose of eminent domain and clarification that the taking or damaging of private property predominantly for the purpose of increasing tax revenue shall not be considered a public use.”
Cain reiterated that stance last week, and said her association opposes the House bill on eminent domain, calling it “restrictive and unnecessary.”
Cain said that, as of February 20, the MAR had not formed an official position on the Senate’s eminent domain bill.
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .