Mississippi voters pass ballot initiative restricting eminent domain

[JURIST] Mississippi voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution limiting the power of eminent domain [Cornell LII backgrounder] in the state. The approved measure [initiative, PDF] would prohibit, with certain exceptions, state and local government from conveying acquired private property to other persons or private businesses for a period of 10 years after acquisition. The process of filing and completing eminent domain proceedings is not affected by the initiative, as its restrictions have no effect until acquired property is vested with the condemnor:

No property acquired by the exercise 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 ...
However, the prohibition would not apply to certain exercises of eminent domain, including where public nuisance, structures unfit for human habitation or abandoned property are concerned. Additional exceptions to the prohibition include drainage and levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers and utilities. To place this initiative on the ballot in Mississippi required 30,006 signatures, and 119,251 signatures were in fact collected. The measure was approved in the general election with nearly three-fourths of the vote.

The power of the government to take private property and convert it into public use is a doctrine long held. States can enact limitations on government takings to further citizen protections flowing from the Fifth Amendment. Last year voters in Nevada rejected a ballot initiative [JURIST report] that would have expanded state power by defining five exceptions to an existing general prohibition against exercising eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another. The restriction on the state's ability to use eminent domain to acquire private property was approved by voters through a ballot initiative in 2008, which was originally voted on in 2006 [JURIST reports]. In 2009 Texas voters approved an initiative [JURIST report] to prohibit government officials from taking private property and allotting it to private buyers for the purpose of economic development or to increase tax revenues unless the property owner consents. The Texas measure further limited government ability to enforce eminent domain by requiring approval of two-thirds of the bicameral legislature. New Jersey limited the exercise of eminent domain [JURIST report] in 2007, although it was through the New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] rather than a ballot initiative. The Connecticut legislature approved eminent domain restrictions [JURIST report] in the same year. During the 2006 mid-term elections voters in nine states approved ballot initiatives [JURIST report] restricting the use of eminent domain.

 

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