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Judge Considers Eminent Domain Arguments

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 25 Jul 2011 01:54pm | comments
EC Smith lost his farm to eminent domain

A judge in Hinds County is deciding if a constitutional amendment can appear on this November's ballot. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the amendment seeks to limit what governments can do with their eminent domain powers.

Eminent domain is the process government uses to take private land for projects ranging from road construction to industrial development.

A judge in Hinds County heard arguments Monday morning to decide if an amendment restricting those powers can be on the ballot.

David Waide, the man who started the petition drive to get the amendment on the ballot, says the goal is to keep the government from giving land it takes to a private entity.

"We don't think that taking a person's private property and giving it to another individual, for any reason, is in keeping with the American traditions," Waide said.

Opponents of the amendment contend say it would alter the state's bill of rights...which the constitution prevents.

Some business entities, like economic developer Leland Speed, say the amendment would stifle economic development in the state.

"We wouldn't have any Toyota. That plant would have been gone. We have three adjoining state's whose laws allow the governor and their legislature to do what we can do in Mississippi today," Speed said.

Speed is also the head of the Mississippi Development Authority, but says he attended the hearing as a private individual.

Some in Mississippi worry that Governments will abuse their eminent domain rights for the benefit of private companies or individuals.

E.C. Smith says his family lost their Madison county farm to eminent domain in 1990, and were paid around 3-thousand dollars an acre.

"They told us we could no longer own the farm land, but once they got it they would rent it back to us. And we could rent it until they had a need for it," Smith said.

Smith says today that land is worth 100-thousand dollars an acre, but remains undeveloped.

Opponents of the amendment say such stories are overblown and not a true representation of how the government uses its eminent domain powers, making the limitations needless.

The judge says he will make a decision about the fate of the amendment by the end of the week.



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