News: Quick Takes

Eminent domain amendment back in play

House Bill 3 would prevent takings that benefit private parties. Measure hasn't made it through House and Senate before

A bipartisan group of House members this morning filed a bill to amend the state constitution to prevent government taking private property.

House Bill 3, the first proposed legislation filed as lawmakers returned to Raleigh today, states: “Private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for a public use. Just compensation shall be paid and shall be determined by a jury at the request of any party.”

Sponsors include Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, chairman of the House Rules Committee, where the measure died after referral there in 2016. Other sponsors are Deputy Majority Whip Chris Malone, R-Wake; Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson; and Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond.

McGrady and Lewis also were primary sponsors of House Bill 3 in 2016, which originally dealt only with eminent domain. Amendments were added in the Senate to lower the personal income tax cap, create an Emergency Savings Reserve Fund, and preserving the right to hunt and fish.

Sponsors also filed House Bill 10, which would extend some eminent domain powers to private companies such as railroads and regulated monopoly utilities.

“I’ve heard absolutely nothing about [eminent domain provisions] coming up this session,” Senate Majority Whip Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said last week. He did add the caveat, “It wouldn’t surprise me if it did.”

Tillman said he hadn’t heard “any serious talk” about it with committee chairs or during leadership talks in which he was involved.

‘It’s bubbled up a time or two in the past, and it’s not gotten anywhere. I just don’t know why it hasn’t made it,” he said.

During debate on the constitutional amendment last year Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said North Carolina is one of only a few states that does not outline eminent domain powers in its constitution.

The amendment was intended to prevent a situation like that in Kelo, Conn., in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled government could seize private property and give it to another private property owner to enhance economic development.

“North Carolina needs to do more to protect property owners from eminent domain abuse, and House Bills 3 and 10 are steps in the right direction,” said Jon Guze, director of legal studies at the John Locke Foundation. “The sponsors, Reps. McGrady, Lewis, Malone, and Goodman, have been diligently pursuing eminent domain reform for many years, and they deserve our thanks. While these bills are a good start, they would be even better with the addition of language that specifically forbids, or severely restricts, the transfer of private property from ordinary citizens to politically-connected corporations and developers. In my view, that’s the worst form of eminent domain abuse, and the one from which North Carolina property owners are most in need of protection.”