College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Private Property? Or Possible Economic Development?

Initiative 31: Eminent Domain

Proposed Ballot Title: Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?

Proposed Ballot Summary: Initiative #31 would amend the Mississippi constitution to prohibit state and local government from taking private property by eminent domain and then conveying it to other persons or private businesses for a period of 10 years after acquisition. Exceptions from the prohibition include drainage and levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers, and utilities. The prohibition would not apply in certain situations, including public nuisance, structures unfit for human habitation, or abandoned property.

While some people may not know or understand eminent domain laws in Mississippi, for others it is a huge deal.

“As of now, eminent domain allows government to take private property from people who are not willing to sell their land directly to the private corporation and use it as economic development,” Cy Rosenblatt, political science professor, said. People for this initiative feel like the government should not be able to take private land and hand it over to private corporations. Rosenblatt said that gubernatorial candidates and, more importantly, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation are among those in support of this initiative.

Randy Knight, president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, said in a column he wrote for gulflive.com that economic development situations are best handled with a willing buyer and a willing seller.

“Economic development can and does occur without the use of eminent domain,” Knight said. “We need to do everything we can to inhibit government from using eminent domain for private economic development. I urge people to vote ‘Yes’ on [Initiative 31].”

In the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that if the initiative were to pass and go into effect it would “gut state economic development efforts.” “There is a far better, more effective way to protect private property from improper takings than this,” Barbour said.

Business major Jesse Powell offered an objective opinion. “Coming from out of state, I wouldn’t like the government taking my property for economic development and not infrastructure,” the Virginia native said.

Oshkin Bulutoglu, a freshman undecided major, offered an opposing opinion. “Mississippi is so underdeveloped that it seems like that is what the state needs –– industrialization.”

Both sides of the initiative have their pros and cons, and both sides require critical thought and consideration before and on Election Day.

From DM by Warren Bishop