Eminent domain bill approved: Kinston (NC) Free Press, 6/7/06

By Barry Smith

The [North Carolina] state House on Tuesday gave its unanimous approval to a bill intended to prevent local governments from taking private land for private economic development purposes.

“It” will protect the private property rights in North Carolina,” said Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, who introduced the bill.

The bill’s other sponsor, Rep. Wilma Sherrill, R-Buncombe, told fellow House members that the bill would repeal nine laws giving certain local governments the authority to use eminent domain for economic development purposes.

The U.S. Constitution allows governments to take land from private owners for public use, provided that “just compensation” is paid to the owner.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in giving states some leeway in defining public use, allowed a Connecticut town to take private homes for private development.

Following the case, which became known as the Kelo case, the House set up a committee to study the issue.

Sherrill said that the committee would continue to look into other issues related to eminent domain, including whether the state should be required to pay attorneys and appraisers fees in some cases.

The bill passed the House by a 115-0 vote. It now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake, would like to see lawmakers go farther than just approve a new law. He wants to see the General Assembly approve an amendment to the N.C. Constitution banning such uses of eminent domain and giving property owners just compensation and trial by jury rights in disputed cases.

“We need both bills,” said Stam, who has gotten 88 House members to sign on to his proposed constitutional amendment.

He said that if the state constitution isn’t changed to protect property owners, provisions could be slipped into bills allowing local governments to take such action.

“People need to be secure that their homes or property can’t be taken for this purpose,” Stam said.

Stam said that North Carolina is one of the few states that don’t have a constitutional “just compensation” requirement for eminent domain cases. And he said that while the state statutes require jury trials in disputed cases, that guarantee should be written into the N.C. Constitution.

Amendments to the N.C. Constitution require a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the General Assembly. That translates in to 72 votes in the 120-member House and 30 votes in the 50-member Senate. Then the proposed change would be submitted to the voters of North Carolina for approval.

If the General Assembly approves the proposed change in the N.C. Constitution, it would go to the voters on Nov. 6, 2007.

Kinston Free Press: http://www.kinston.com