Legislators not wading into property rights battle

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2005

State legislators from southwest Mississippi say they have seenno indications of a state effort to rein in localities’ ability tobegin eminent domain proceedings.

A federal bill has been filed in Congress is in response to acontroversial Supreme Court decision late last month that expandedlocal governments’ ability to seize private property and turn itover to private developers if it was found to serve a publicpurpose.

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both have billsaimed at narrowing the focus of that ruling. One such proposalwould deny federal funding to projects for which local governmentsseized private property to give to another private entity foreconomic development.

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One state representative said Congressional action is the bestcourse.

“That’s clearly where it needs to rest right now,” said District53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. “I think the feds need to takethe lead in this.”

Moak said he supports federal efforts to limit the effects ofthe ruling but said no state legislation is planned because it ismuch more difficult for states to challenge a federal law orSupreme Court ruling.

“I think the ruling goes too far and gives too much authority tocities and counties, but you can’t usurp federal law whether it beby federal ruling or legislation,” he said.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, R-Brookhaven, said he alsowould support federal efforts to redefine the law but predictedthere would be no immediate state response.

“I have not heard of any attempts to propose a state bill thatwould limit the ruling,” he said.

Moak said he generally supports eminent domain proceedings,saying they are necessary for local governments to improveservices, such as utilities, and to expand, by creating newroadways and business opportunities. However, the Supreme Courtruling “goes beyond what most folks feel is private propertyrights.”