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Mississippi Election 2011: Initiative 31-Eminent Domain

By Daniel Cherry | Published 01 Nov 2011 08:07pm | comments

Mississippi's November 8th ballot includes three proposed constitutional amendments. One would limit the government's use of eminent domain for the taking of private property for private economic development projects. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports on Initiative 31.

Lonzo Archie and his family live on 24 acres of land near Canton in Madison County. Take a drive through the property and you don't have to look very far to see any of Archie's relatives.

"That's a cousin right there. That's a cousin over there. That's my dad's home right there. He was raised right there."

About ten years ago when Nissan was looking for a place to locate their nearly one billion dollar manufacturing plant in Canton, Lonzo Archie and his family found themselves right in their path.

"If they had their way, that building there would have been right there square where all those houses are right there. This road here would have went through my house."

The Archie family refused any offers for a buyout and eventually, the state used eminent domain to take the property. The Archies fought to keep their land, and, with the help of the Institute for Justice, the family was able to get the state Supreme Court to overturn the land taking.

"I am glad. If we had lost it, our family would have been torn to pieces."

Nissan was able to make adjustments to their plans and build around the Archie property. But some business leaders ask, What if the solution hadn't been so simple? Would Nissan have located out of state? The plant employs thousands of people, and with Mississippi's jobless rate at more than ten percent, Jackson businessman Socrates Garrett says job creation should be the main priority.

"We have 3 million people in the State of Mississippi. We need jobs and we need to be able to bring industry into our area so that we might change the status of our state and our population."

Initiative 31 is on the November 8th ballot, and if passed, the use of eminent domain would be severely restricted in the state. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled land takings for business purposes are constitutional, many states have made their own restrictions. Randy Knight is the President of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. The Bureau is a strong supporter of the initiative.

"According to the Supreme Court decision, the government can take your property and turn it over to someone else for economic development. Mississippi is one of only seven states that hasn't strengthened its eminent domain laws, and that's what we're trying to do with this."

Even if Initiative 31 passes government could still take a resident's property for traditional public use like roads, but the state couldn't take property and then transfer it to a private business or another person for at least ten years. When a bill recently went through the state legislature aimed at regulating eminent domain, it passed both houses before being vetoed by Governor Barbour. Senator John Horhn of Jackson voted in favor of restricting eminent domain then, but now he says he's changed his mind on the matter.

"We've got to focus on creating jobs in Mississippi, and we need every edge that we possibly can get. Other states hear about what's going on in Mississippi with this initiative, and they use it against us when it comes to recruiting businesses to their states versus ours."

Senator Horhn says the initiative is unnecessary. Businessman Socrates Garrett is voting no on Initiative 31 because he says job creators don't need anything holding them back.

"We need this tool in the toolbox. Whether it's used or not we don't need to take the tool and the ability of our government to attract industry into the State of Mississippi to improve the quality of life for our citizens."

Voting yes on the initiative would be to restrict eminent domain. Supporters of Initiative 31 say there is a way to get property and it involves a willing buyer and a willing seller. Stephanie Parker Weaver with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference says it all goes back to a fundamental right of all citizens.

"This is a power play to enhance your own personal pockets by those who are already very prominent and wealthy. So what we want to do is protect every citizen, the little guy, from being strong armed by those who have the power to use eminent domain."

If the initiative gets enough yes votes it would limit the government's ability to use eminent domain in Mississippi; however, if there are more no votes eminent domain laws will remain the same.

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