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Eminent domain opponents have required signatures

JACKSON — Supporters say they’ve gathered almost enough signatures to put an eminent domain initiative on the 2011 statewide ballot in Mississippi.

The measure is designed to let voters decide on a proposal to prevent the taking of private property to give to private developers. Opponents warn it could stifle some economic projects.

Mississippi Farm Bureau says it’s collecting nearly 1,000 signatures a day on petitions.

To get the issue on the 2011 ballot, petitioners face an Oct. 6 deadline to submit at least 89,285 certified signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state’s office.

“I believe we are seeing our freedoms being eroded one by one and it is time to draw a line in the sand,” said Farm Bureau president David Waide, the initiative’s sponsor, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

“This country was founded on certain principles, and I believe religious freedom and the right to own property were two of the most important. I am not willing to surrender on those.”

One-fifth of the required number of signatures must come from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the early 1990s. Mississippi now has four U.S. House districts, but the initiative law still requires an equal number of signatures to be gathered in each of the five former districts.

Waide said the required number of signatures has been obtained in three of the old districts.

Waide said Farm Bureau members are working in the old 4th District, which encompasses parts of Jackson and Southwest Mississippi, and in the old 2nd District in the Delta and Jackson.

The 2011 ballot will include races for governor and seven other statewide offices, regional offices such as transportation commissioner, legislative seats and county offices. Waide has not ruled out running for a statewide office.

If supporters of the eminent domain petition submit signatures by the Oct. 6 deadline, the issue must be presented to the Legislature, which can craft an alternative proposal to place on the ballot along with the original initiative proposal.

In 2009, the Legislature by an overwhelming margin passed a bill similar to Waide’s initiative. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed it, saying it could hurt the effort to recruit major economic manufacturers, such as Toyota.

Backers of the proposal argued that manufacturers still could be recruited to the state and methods would still exist to ensure land was available for development.

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