Miss. lawmakers again debate eminent domain restrictions

Published 7:33 pm Thursday, January 4, 2007

Mississippi lawmakers are reviving a debate over whether to restrict governments from taking private property for industrial parks or similar projects.

The bill says governments could not take private land for retail, industrial or residential developments, to increase the local tax base or to give the land to any public-private partnership.

Private land could still be taken for public purposes such as building roads or levees.

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The bill cleared the House 97-20 on Wednesday and moves to a Senate committee for more work.

Similar bills moved through the Legislature last year but never reached the governor’s desk. Under a compromise between the House and Senate in 2006, a bill would’ve banned the taking of private land except for a direct public use.

Last year’s bill died because it didn’t have a provision that some north Mississippi lawmakers wanted that would allow citizens to repurchase land taken through eminent domain. The proposal this year has that provision — so far.

Rep. Jim Simpson, R-Gulfport, argued against the bill Wednesday.

“It will stop economic development on any industrial park,” Simpson said.

Other House members said governments could still establish industrial parks by buying land rather than using a court procedure to take it. Most of the land for the Nissan plant near Canton was purchased several years ago.

One of the primary sponsors of the bill is Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, who is running for lieutenant governor.

“It’s my understanding that this Legislature wanted to make a statement for private property rights,” Franks said.

Sen. Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, also is running for lieutenant governor, and he has filed his own bill to put restrictions on eminent domain.

Only one bill — if any — is likely to make it through the entire legislative process.

Eminent domain became a prominent issue in several states after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 that New London, Conn., could take a group of older, waterfront homes and give the land to a private developer for offices, a hotel and convention center. The city was hoping for an economic boost from the new development.

The bills are House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 2152.