March 24, 2009
JACKSON - The House voted today to override Gov. Haley Barbour''s veto of a bill that would restrict government power to force landowners to sell their properties so private industries can locate there.
It''s now up to the Senate to decide whether the bill becomes law over Barbour''s objection -- and become the first veto override of his five-year tenure as governor. It could come up for a vote there on Wednesday.
Barbour said lawmakers must sustain his veto of House Bill 803 to avert a "catastrophic blow" to Mississippi''s economic-development efforts.
"It''s about as bad for job creation as anything could be," he said.
However, the House voted 101-19 to pass the bill in spite of his opposition.
"Ownership of private property is one those tenants of being an American. It''s right up there with freedom of religion and the Second Amendment (right to own guns)," said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, among the GOP legislators who normally side with the Republican governor but not on this issue.
Without government power to buy land by force for large indust rial projects, Mississippi would not have been able to attract the Nissan automobile plant near Jackson, the Toyota plant near Tupelo and the Paccar truck-engine plant near Columbus, Barbour said.
"We cannot compete for job-creation projects in Mississippi if we don''t have the tools," he said Monday at a news conference in his state Capitol office.
The bill says government''s eminent-domain power can''t be used to buy private property to enhance tax revenues by turning it over to commercial developers.
The 122-member House of Representatives has 49 Republicans - usually enough to keep the Democratic majority from reaching the 67 percent threshold needed to override the governor.
The House had earlier this month voted 119-3 for the bill. It preserves the right of government to take land for public uses, such as highways and utility lines.
The vetoed bill now goes for a vote in the 52-member Senate, which passed the bill 51-0 March 5. However, Barbour''s chances of being sustained appear better in the Senate, which has 25 Republicans.
House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, said the GOP bloc should not support the veto. "If they''re going to do what''s right for the people of Mississippi, they will not," he said.
Joining Barbour in urging legislators to sustain the veto are the Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Mississippi Association of Realtors.
In enacted into law, the bill would have a "chilling effect on Mississippi''s economic-development future," MEC Chairman Blake Wilson said at Barbour''s news conference.
On the other side in support of the bill are the Mississippi Farm Bureau, Mississippi Loggers Association, Mississippi Forestry Association, Mississippi Cattlemen''s Association and the Property Rights Alliance, according to the Institute for Justice.
The Washington-based institute represents landowners who don''t want to be forced by government to sell their property.
"With no ill economic effects - and with the substantial benefits strong reform provides the rightful owners of property and society as a whole - legislators nationwide have been encouraged to pursue safeguards against eminent-domain abuse," the Institute of Justice said in a statement issued last week.
The legislation is in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed governments'' authority to take private property for commercial development. However, the court did say states can limit that power.
Since the decision, 43 states have enacted laws to restrict the use of eminent domain, according to the institute.
Barbour said Mississippi already has enough measures to protect property owners'' rights. Their land, he said, can''t be forced away for private industrial uses unless approved by local governments and the state Legislature along with the governor and the Mississippi Development Authority. Courts can also step in to settle eminent-domain disputes, he said.