Since 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London, Conn., that the city could take private property and transfer it to a developer, the reaction from states has been swift and loud.
Since then, 44 states have enacted eminent domain reform, in statutes that either prevent the use of eminent domain for private enterprise all together or place tight restrictions on its use, such as employing it to eliminate blighted property in urban areas.
There is a possibility Mississippi could become the 45th next fall.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, on Sept. 30, turned in petitions with more than 119,000 signatures on them that seek to place the issue on the 2011 statewide general election ballot.
Currently, the only state with which Mississippi shares a border whose law is similar to the one the Farm Bureau initiative seeks to enact is Alabama. There, the government’s power of eminent domain is limited to projects that serve a strict public use, like roads and bridges and utilities.
Tennessee and Arkansas allow the use of eminent for economic development as long as the project meets certain job-creation and economic impact criteria. Those states’ laws are similar to the one now on the books in Mississippi.
Louisiana permits the use of eminent domain as long as the private property has been deemed a threat to public health and safety or has been condemned as blight. Gov. Haley Barbour, in the 2009 legislative session, vetoed a bill that would have placed similar restrictions on Mississippi’s power to use eminent domain. After his veto was narrowly sustained in the Senate, Farm Bureau began its petition drive.
Barbour maintained then, and continued to do so through a spokesman last week, that tightening eminent domain laws would put Mississippi at a severe disadvantage in the competition for mega-projects like the Toyota and Nissan plants.
State economic development officials in Alabama and Louisiana did not respond to requests by the Mississippi Business Journal last week that sought to gauge the effect the restrictions on eminent domain have had on economic development recruitment efforts in those states.
In Tennessee, Nashville’s Metro Development and Housing Agency started eminent domain proceedings last fall related to the construction of a new convention center. The proceedings started before the local government had approved financing for the construction of the center.
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