Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour Vetoes Eminent Domain Reform

IJ Report Demonstrates States Can Have Reform AND Development

WEB RELEASE: March 24, 2009
CONTACT: John E. Kramer
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—It is too bad that before Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour vetoed H.B. 803—eminent domain reform that passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state legislature—that he did not read the Institute for Justice’s report, “Doomsday? No Way: Economic Trends and Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform.” If he had, the governor would have learned that states can pass strong property rights protection reforms and have economic development, too.

The report is available at www.ij.org/images/pdf_folder/other_pubs/doomsday-no-way.pdf.

“Simply stated, this study reveals that reforms passed after 2005’s infamous Kelo eminent domain decision from the U.S. Supreme Court have provided greater protection to homes and small businesses without sacrificing economic health; securing property rights and stimulating economic development can coexist,” said Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research for the Institute for Justice. “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 should be encouraged to keep good reforms in place while pursuing new and stronger safeguards against eminent domain abuse.”

But yesterday, Gov. Barbour vetoed Mississippi’s eminent domain reform, which would have prohibited the use of eminent domain for private development or for increasing tax revenue.

“Gov. Barbour’s veto is outrageous. It leaves property owners across Mississippi vulnerable to the abuse of eminent domain,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, the national public interest law firm that argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Susette Kelo. “Mississippi is just one of seven states in the nation that has failed to reform its eminent domain laws.”

H.B. 803 would have provided solid protection to property owners in Mississippi from eminent domain abuse. The bill prohibits the taking of private property for private development, for increasing tax revenue or in order to convey it to another private party with the exception of the planned Blue Springs Toyota plant. The bill also tightens the definition of urban blight.

The governor’s veto came as no surprise, as he indicated after the bill’s passage in the House that he favored taking private property for large-scale projects—like the Toyota plant. Toyota recently announced that the company would allow the construction of the plant to be completed but that officials were delaying the plant’s opening indefinitely.

Last week, a diverse coalition of 11 groups sent Gov. Barbour a letter urging him to sign H.B. 803. The coalition includes the National Federation of Independent Business, Mississippi Farm Bureau, Mississippi Center for Public Policy, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Americans for Tax Reform, Mississippi Loggers Association, Mississippi Forestry Association, Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, Property Rights Alliance, National Taxpayers Union and the Institute for Justice.

Barbour joins only a handful of governors to veto eminent domain reform in the almost four years since the Kelo decision. In all but two of the previous cases, reform has been enacted in the end. In Iowa, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto in a special session, for the first time in over 40 years. Arizona citizens passed Proposition 207 following their governor’s veto. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed a comprehensive reform bill during that state’s next legislative session to provide even more protections than the previous effort. The governor of Delaware’s veto was not overridden, but her lieutenant governor—who supported the veto—could not even win his party’s nomination for governor, losing to now-Gov. Jack Markell, who said he would sign the vetoed bill. Markell’s opponent also ran on an anti-eminent domain abuse platform. Texas Governor Rick Perry is now pushing for reform.

Previous attempts to reform Mississippi’s eminent domain laws failed in the legislative process, but H.B. 803 received wide bipartisan support in both legislative houses, making it the first piece of meaningful eminent domain reform to pass the legislature in Mississippi since Kelo.

The Institute for Justice has fought the use of eminent domain for private gain in Mississippi. Nine years ago, the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Authority (MMEIA) threatened to take the Archie family homestead in Canton as part of the 1,400-acre Nissan plant project. Both Nissan and the former head of the MMEIA publicly admitted that the project did not require the Archies’ land, but they went ahead with condemnation anyway. After the case drew national support for the Archies from the likes of Martin Luther King III and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and then went to the state Supreme Court, the state stopped its condemnation attempts, allowing the Archies to stay in their homes.

“There’s no question that Mississippi needs reform and that property owners want reform,” Bullock continued. “We’ve defeated eminent domain abuse in Mississippi before, and we’ll continue to work to make sure that it cannot occur in the future.”