Barbour: Eminent-domain bill violates constitution

March 26, 2009



JACKSON -- Gov. Haley Barbour said the state Legislature will be unconstitutionally restricting government''s land-takeover powers if the Senate enacts an eminent domain bill over his veto. 


With the House having already voted to override Barbour, the Senate this morning was debating whether the bill becomes law. 


It''s an "obvious fact that House Bill 803 clearly violates the Mississippi Constitution," said Barbour, who cited in his veto message a provision that says it''s ultimately up to judges to decide what''s considered a public use when government takes over private land. 


Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, said Barbour has a good point. He was the only Golden Triangle legislator voting against the House veto override Tuesday. 


"I don''t think we need the bill with that constitutional section being so strong," said Smith, referring to that provision the veto was partly based on. 


"If there''s a dispute, it''s a judicial issue and not a legislative issue," he said. 


An attorney, Smith said Barbour could have grounds to file a lawsuit to throw out the eminent-domain restriction on private land being taken for an economic-development project. Barbour said such projects can be a public benefit the Legislature has no right to limit. 


Barbour pointed to the constitutional provision for government land takings that says "the question whether the contemplated use be public shall be a judicial question, and, as such, determined without regard to legislative assertion that the use is public." 


However, Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, the Senate committee chairman pushing for the bill''s passage, said the state must restrict government''s power to force people to give up their land for industrial uses. 


"We believe private property owners'' rights are paramount," Fillingane said. 


The right to own land is "handed down to us not by government but by God," Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said in opening the debate this morning on the veto-override attempt. 


If the bill becomes law over Barbour''s objection, it would be the first veto ever overridden since he took the governor''s office five years ago. 


Fillingane and McDaniel are among the Senate''s 25 Republicans who normally side with the state''s GOP chief executive and sustain his vetoes. However, enough of Barbour''s fellow partisans could desert the governor on the eminent domain bill to join the Senate''s 27 Democratic senators in overriding the governor. It takes 35 votes to override a veto in the 52-member Senate. 


The House voted 101-19 to override Barbour -- with 33 of the House''s 49 Republicans bucking the governor. They enabled the Democratic-controlled House to exceed by 20 votes the 67 percent supermajority required to pass the vetoed bill. 


House Bill 803 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 government could still take private land for public use, such as building roads or installing utility lines. 


Barbour says the state must be able to assure large manufacturers like Nissan, Toyota and Paccar that the state can find them land if needed -- even if it requires government forcing people to sell their property to accommodate the industries.  


The proposed eminent domain law, Barbour said, "would do more damage to job creation and economic development than any government action since Mississippi rightfully began trying to balance agriculture with industry in 1935." 


The state''s Balance Agriculture With Industry program marked the beginning of Mississippi providing more incentives to attract and accommodate manufacturers.