The court’s ruling  “opened up a whole new can of worms,” says Farm Bureau’s Randy Knight. “Historically, eminent domain has been defined as the government’s right to take land, through fair compensation, for public use. But this ruling now gives government the right to also take private property for private development. We feel that the will of the people should prevail on this important constitutional issue.”

Otherwise, Knight says, “Government can take your land and transfer it to Walmart, Kroger, or a developer wanting to build a shopping center, because that would generate more tax revenue than the current owner.”

Eminent domain became a highly visible issue in Mississippi in 2001, when the state initiated condemnation proceedings against Canton, Miss., property owners to clear 24 acres of their land for a giant Nissan vehicle manufacturing plant that would require some 1,400 acres. The matter ended up before the Mississippi Supreme Court and was later resolved by Nissan redesigning its facility so the family could hold onto its land and homes.

“Initiative 31 will strengthen the rights of Mississippi property owners and greatly reduce the chances that eminent domain will be used to take land for economic development purposes,” Knight says. “It will force any government entity that takes land for economic development to hold that land for 10 years before turning it over to the developer.”

He points out that the initiative would not affect the traditional uses of eminent domain.

“Governments can still use eminent domain to acquire property for bridges, roads, utilities, schools, etc. Initiative 31 does not change the bill of rights in the Mississippi constitution.”

Leland Speed, director of the Mississippi Development Authority, who as a private citizen filed the legal challenge against the initiative, contends that the state “does not have a history of abuse of property rights or eminent domain for economic development.”

He said if the measure passes it would take away power from the courts to determine what constitutes public use for economic development, and that it would prevent the legislature, governor, and local officials from getting together to pursue economic development for the state.

Farm Bureau counters that such language hasn’t stopped economic development in 43 other states.

“Most large companies don’t use eminent domain and wouldn’t take it into consideration,” says Knight. “Economic development starts with a willing buyer and a willing seller. Studies of economic trends following the Kelo decision have determined that there appears to be no negative economic consequences from eminent domain reform — that state trends in all three economic indicators were essentially the same after reform as before.”

The reform measure will not be of benefit only to farmers, Knight says.

“It’s for all Mississippi citizens, who are entitled to be secure in their home or on their land, against the threat of it being taken for what really is private use by someone with more assets than they have.”