NEW NEWS – Barbour: Eminent domain bill would hurt business

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says he’s vetoing a bill that would limit the use of eminent domain because it would hurt the state’s ability to lure economic development projects.

The bill would’ve prevented the government from taking land for private projects. Barbour said Monday eminent domain was needed to lure projects such as the Nissan vehicle plant in Canton and the Toyota plant in north Mississippi.

“We cannot compete for job creation projects in Mississippi if we don’t have the tools,” Barbour said during a news conference at the Capitol.

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Barbour said he believes he has enough support among legislators to sustain his veto. He said he has provided them with more information about the issue.

Barbour said Mississippi already has broad protection to protect private property rights because large projects require the approval of local government and the Legislature. Barbour said the Mississippi Development Authority and the governor also have oversight, and people who want to fight eminent domain can go to court.

Under the bill, government can still take private land through eminent domain for public use, such as road projects.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice was among the groups urging Barbour to sign the legislation. Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said the governor’s decision puts Mississippi in the minority nationwide. Forty-three states have passed laws to change their eminent domain laws, Bullock said.

“It’s really astonishing the governor would veto something that protects folks’ property rights while not interfering with the state’s ability to pursue economic development projects,” Bullock said.

Bullock represented a family that successfully fought the state’s attempt to take their land for the Nissan plant that opened south of Canton in 2003. Bullock, who didn’t charge the Archie family, said fighting eminent domain can be costly to property owners.

Joining Barbour at the news conference was Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson and Jay Moon, head of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. Both spoke against the bill.

The bill was filed by Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democrat from Canton. An attempt to override veto would have to start in the House, where Blackmon is head of the Judiciary A Committee.

Sen. Eric Powell, a Democrat from Corinth, said he voted for the bill and he doesn’t intend to change his vote. Powell said residents in Tishomingo County lost their land to eminent domain decades ago when the federal government was considering the Yellow Creek site for a nuclear power plant that never happened.

“That is a big problem, taking property, whether it’s government or private,” Powell said.

The bill is House Bill 803.