House committee moves to limit when governments can take private property
Posted February 4, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — State and local governments would be prohibited from taking private property for certain economic development purposes under a proposed constitutional amendment approved by the House Judiciary II Committee on Wednesday morning.
The measure, which passed the House overwhelmingly last year, would curtail eminent domain powers by saying the the state could forcibly take land only for a public use, not a public purpose. Governments would still be able to take land for schools, roads and other public purposes.
What would be outlawed, said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, would be cases where "private property was being condemned and sold to private developers."
The amendment was spurred by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices ruled that the federal constitution allowed the town of New London, Conn., to take private land and turn it over to a developer because the new project would increase the tax revenue coming to the city. However, the court also ruled that states could set up stricter standards for the use of eminent domain powers.
Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, the bill's lead sponsor, said there hasn't been a rash of cases like that in North Carolina, but his legislation is designed to head off future problems.
"We don't want to get sometime down the road and have there be any ambiguity," McGrady said.
Another feature of the bill would give someone whose property has been condemned the right to a jury trial to determine its value, something that is a right in almost every other state.
The measure is being watched carefully by city officials, who frequently work to revitalize areas that have become blighted. Durham Mayor Bill Bell was in the room as the committee voted on the bill.
Asked if he thought the amendment would interfere with work Durham is doing, Bell said, "I think we're good."
Constitutional amendments must be approved by a three-fifths vote in both the House and the Senate. They are then put to a vote of the people. The language in this bill would call for a public vote during the May 2016 primary.
A very similar measure passed the House twice during the 2013-14 session with more than 100 votes each time, but senators declined to take up the bill. McGrady and Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said they have higher hopes for the measure this year.
No one spoke against the bill in committee. The House is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.