A view of the State Capitol's dome in Jackson, Miss., Monday, March 14, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Legislation is pending this session that is intended to prevent the courts from overturning a citizen-sponsored constitutional amendment passed in 2011 to prevent the government from taking private land for the use of other private entities.

The legislation would put in general law the constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in 2011. The reason that is needed, officials say, is because of a May 2021 court ruling where the medical marijuana initiative that was approved by voters in November 2020 was ruled invalid by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Some question whether the 2011 eminent domain resolution preventing the taking of private property for the use of other private entities could be ruled unconstitutional just as the medical marijuana initiative was.

“We felt we needed to make it clear to the Supreme Court that the legislative intent is to enforce the eminent domain constitutional amendment as it was voted on by the citizens,” said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate.

READ MORE: Mississippi Supreme Court strikes down ballot initiative process

The Senate has passed a rules suspension resolution that would allow the Legislature to take up a bill to put in general law the same eminent domain language that was approved by voters in 2011. Presumably, if the Legislature acts, the Supreme Court will have no reason to rule against the language.

The rules suspension resolution is pending in the House Rules Committee. Rules Chair Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, said he is studying the legislation and will make a decision in the coming days after talking to leadership about whether to pass it to the full House for consideration.

A rules suspension is needed because bills that would have addressed the issue died earlier in the session when they were not passed before key deadlines. At this point, it will take a two-thirds vote of both chambers to revive the eminent domain issue.

The eminent domain initiative was sponsored and led in 2011 by the Mississippi Farm Bureau, a statewide group that supports farming and agriculture interests. Farm Bureau got involved in the issue after a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that gave local governments the authority to take private property and transfer it to other private entities unless state laws prevented it.

In a statement, Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby at the state Capitol, voiced support for the Legislature suspending the rules to take up the issue.

“The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and our 180,000 member families support codifying, in the Mississippi Code, the provisions from the Mississippi Constitution as long as it is the exact language from the Mississippi Constitution. Mississippians voted overwhelming in favor of Initiative 31 during the November General election in 2011,” the statement read.

Farm Bureau goes on to say, “We support a Mississippi law that would protect private property rights. We feel a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gives local governments the right to seize private property from owners using the ‘eminent domain’ principle for transfer to other private entities so as long as it is part of a plan for economic development should be against state law.”

The 2021 ruling by the state Supreme Court found that the entire initiative process was invalid because language outlining how the process was to be used stated the mandated signatures of registered voters needed to place an issue on the ballot should be gathered equally from five congressional districts as they existed in the 1990s. The state lost one of its five congressional districts as a result of the 2000 U.S. Census, thus making the process invalid, the Supreme Court ruled.

There have been only three voter initiatives approved: eminent domain, a voter identification requirement and medical marijuana. The Legislature passed a medical marijuana law earlier this session after the Supreme Court ruling. In earlier sessions, the Legislature placed in general law the voter identification requirement, meaning it is not likely to be impacted by the 2021 Supreme Court ruling. Eminent domain is the only successful ballot initiative that has not been addressed after the Supreme Court ruling.

Legislation also is pending this session to correct the problems found by the Supreme Court with the initiative process so that it can be restored.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.