News: Quick Takes

Lawmakers looking to enshrine eminent domain restrictions in state constitution

The House Rules Committee gave a favorable report on Monday, Feb. 25 to a bill proposing a constitutional amendment limiting the use of eminent domain for economic development. Only one member, Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, voted against the bill.

House Bill 3 aims to enshrine eminent domain restrictions into the state constitution. Reps. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell; Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson; David Lewis, R-Harnett; and Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, are the primary sponsors of the bill. A companion bill, Senate Bill 27, is currently moving through the Senate. (See Editor’s note at the end of this story.)

H.B. 3 would prohibit the taking of private property by eminent domain except for public use. The amendment would simply state: “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.”

The bill also updates the statutory language specifying what types of utilities would be eligible for eminent domain use. Examples include facilities related to the distribution of natural gas or the construction of communication facilities.

Hall said the bill sponsors believe eminent domain should be used only for public use, when there are not alternatives to acquiring private property.

“It is about protecting property rights,” Hall said. “When the government comes in and decides it is going to essentially take your property by force, it should only do so where it has to and only do so where it’s doing it for a public use and not simply a public benefit like giving it to some private investors to build a grocery store. …”

If the bill passes, voters would could approve or reject the constitutional amendment at the May 2020 primary election.

The House has passed similar legislation in pass sessions, but the bills never got through the Senate. With a companion bill in the Senate, this attempt at eminent domain restrictions may succeed where others have failed.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected after publication to state Rep. Ken Goodman’s affiliation as a Democrat.