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Speed weighs eminent domain fight

November 20, 2011

By JACK ELLIOTT JR.
Associated Press

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court invited opponents of three ballot initiatives to come back after the electorate had spoken in November.
The personhood amendment was defeated. The voter ID initiative faces federal review. That leaves eminent domain and its chief opponent, businessman Leland Speed, who also happens to be Mississippi’s chief economic developer.
Speed and Gov. Haley Barbour led opposition to the initiative backed by the politically powerful Mississippi Farm Bureau. Both said it is bad for Mississippi.
This past week, Speed said he is “disappointed Initiative 31 passed because of the consequences its enactment could very well have on future economic development projects that could create a significant number of jobs.”
As for possible next steps, Speed said only that he is “continuing to weigh the options.”
The initiative is supposed to become part of Mississippi’s Constitution 30 days after the statewide election results are certified.
The secretary of state has until Dec. 8 to certify the general election results. However, once the secretary of state receives the certified results from counties, he typically certifies the vote shortly thereafter.
In the Nov. 8 election, Mississippi became the 44th state to pass stronger protections for property owners against eminent domain abuse, according to the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va.
The eminent domain initiative amends the state Constitution to prohibit government from seizing private property by eminent domain and handing it to private entities for development.
Government agencies that take private property by eminent domain for a public use must own and use that property for 10 years before selling or transferring it to a new, private owner.
Restricting the transfer of the property the government acquires by eminent domain discourages the forced transfer of property from one private owner to another private owner under the guise of “economic development” and will protect the vast majority of property owners in Mississippi, said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.
“Mississippians and their property are safer today-their homes, farms or businesses cannot be taken by eminent domain simply to be to be handed over to others for private profit,” said Berliner.
Farm Bureau President Randy Knight has said he expects another legal challenge.
“We’re still real optimistic, though. It’s hard to fathom that the Mississippi Supreme Court would do away with something that 73 percent of Mississippians are so strongly in favor of.
“We’ve felt all along that the best way to promote economic development is with a willing buyer and a willing seller,” Knight said.
Speed repeatedly has said Mississippi does not have a history of an abuse of property rights or eminent domain for economic development.
He said it also will prevent the Legislature, the governor and local officials from getting together to pursue economic development for the state.
Justice Ann Lamar, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court’s Sept. 8 decision that dismissed Speed’s earlier lawsuit, said the court would not be rushed into deciding the constitutional merits.
The Supreme Court dismissed Speed’s complaint without prejudice, which left open the door for a new legal challenge.
Lamar said Speed’s lawsuit had been rushed through the courts with no time for proper review.
“The present challenge to the substantive validity of (the initiative) is not ripe for consideration. There is time enough to consider whether the measure, if passed, is substantively invalid,” Lamar wrote.
Speed said the eminent domain issue was decided “in the heat of the moment, by simple majority vote and that’s not the way to mess with your constitution.”

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