Arlington, Va.—Today, during a special legislative session, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is scheduled to introduce his own eminent domain reform bill, which will do nothing to protect the rights of Mississippi’s home, small business, church and farm owners. According to Barbour’s website, his legislation will even exempt projects authorized under the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act. Just over one month ago, Barbour vetoed H.B. 803, a strong eminent domain reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly by both houses of the state legislature.
“This provision will ensure that all property in Mississippi is still up for grabs to the highest bidder,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. Bullock and the Institute represented the Archie family of Canton, Miss., when the Mississippi Development Authority attempted to seize their 24-acre homestead for a new Nissan plant. “Governor Barbour made it clear in his veto message of H.B. 803 that he supports seizing your home, business, church or farm for wealthy developers and large corporations, and this legislation will ensure that he is able to continue to do just that.”
Despite Gov. Barbour’s assertion to the contrary, major economic development projects happen every single day through private negotiation, not government force. Barbour claimed that he vetoed the legislation because it would destroy Mississippi as an economic competitor, but as demonstrated by a recent Institute for Justice study, “Doomsday? No Way: Economic Trends and Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform,” this is patently false; states can pass reform, protect the rights of their citizens and enjoy uninhibited economic growth.
“Mississippians shouldn’t be deceived into thinking their property will be protected by this supposed ‘reform,’” said Christina Walsh, the Institute for Justice’s director of activism and coalitions. “Property rights shouldn’t depend on how big of a project a potential developer is proposing for your land, and that is exactly what Barbour’s legislation will codify.”
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 the Kelo decision. The Institute for Justice represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors in Kelo v. City of New London, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that private property may be seized for private economic development projects that promise increased tax revenue or jobs.
In the wake of that decision, 43 states have reformed their laws, restricting their power to abuse eminent domain for private gain. While Georgia, Alabama and Florida have all passed particularly strong reforms, Mississippi remains one of the seven states that have done nothing.
“You can have property rights protections and economic development, and Mississippians, who have shown that they strongly support eminent domain reform, deserve better from their state officials,” said Bullock.