Mississippi Voters Pass Initiative Restricting Eminent Domain Powers

Yesterday, voters in Mississippi overwhelmingly passed Initiative 31, which will limit eminent domain condemnations for private benefit. Despite opposition from Republican Governor Hailey Barbour, 73 percent of voters supported amending the state constitution to prohibit that any “property acquired by the exercise of the power of eminent domain under the laws of the State of Mississippi shall, for a period of ten years after its acquisition, be transferred or any interest therein transferred to any person, non-governmental entity, public-private partnership, corporation, or other business entity” [PDF].

So following condemnation, the government condemner cannot transfer the property to any private party for 10 years. Initiative 31 granted the following exceptions:

(1) The above provisions shall not apply to drainage and levee facilities and usage, roads and bridges for public conveyance, flood control projects with a levee component, seawalls, dams, toll roads, public airports, public ports, public harbors, public wayports, common carriers or facilities for public utilities and other entities used in the generation, transmission, storage or distribution of telephone, telecommunication, gas carbon dioxide, electricty, water, sewer, natural gas, liquid hydrocarbons or other utility products.

(2) The above provisions shall not apply where the use of eminent domain (a) removes a public nuisance; (b) removes a structure that is beyond repair or unfit for human habitation or use; (c) is used to acquire abondoned property; or (d) eliminates a direct threat to public health or safety caused by the property in its current condition.

This is a huge step forward in protecting the rights of Mississippi property owners, although George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin explains why it isn’t perfect (note the above exceptions). Governor Barbour has long opposed enhancing property rights protections on the grounds that eminent domain condemnations for private benefit are necessary to promote economic growth. Reason magazine’s Damon Root wrote about crony capitalist Barbour’s veto of reform legislation in 2009.

In 2010, I explained in a CEI OnPoint whitepaper [PDF] why policy makers should be extremely skeptical of eminent domain condemnations used to promote planned redevelopment and economic growth. It was the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous 2005 Kelo v. New London decision that set off a nationwide movement to restrict takings abuse, and Mississippi becomes the 44th state to react to the Supreme Court’s awful ruling. Now in 2011, the Kelo site cleared to make way for a planned mixed-use development project (since shelved) still remains empty.