(The Center Square) – North Carolina lawmakers are making another attempt at revamping the state's eminent domain law.
The House Committee on Judiciary 1 approved House Bill 271 on March 23. It would allow North Carolinians to decide whether to modify the state's eminent domain powers under the state constitution.
As it stands, North Carolina's eminent domain law allows the government to take private land for public use or benefit. House Bill 271 is aimed at striking the government's power to seize private property specifically for public “benefit.”
Rep. Dennis Riddell, R-Alamance, who has co-sponsored the bill, said it is the eighth attempt by the House to change the law since he has been in the General Assembly. Riddell has spent five terms as a House representative.
The measure would place a constitutional amendment on the 2022 general election ballot for North Carolina voters to change the language to prohibit the taking of private property by eminent domain “except for a public use.” It still would allow utility and other service companies to acquire property to connect services for customers.
“We found through the explicit experience of other people, some here in North Carolina, that 'for benefit' can mean a lot of things in the courtroom,” Riddell said.
Lawmakers have been evaluating the law since the U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London in 2005. The court ruled the Connecticut city could take over a private owner's land and give it to a private developer for the sake of public benefit. North Carolina also has seen eminent domain disputes of its own.
An Apex homeowner has a faced a long-term court battle over her property after town officials used eminent domain to acquire a sewer easement across her land in exchange for compensation from a developer in 2015. The court ruled in favor of the homeowner in 2016, but Apex successfully appealed the case. The property owner has counter appealed.
Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst for conservative think tank John Locke Foundation, said it is good to see the House make another attempt at limiting eminent domain abuse, but lawmakers should do more to safeguard North Carolinians' property rights.
“The bill could be even stronger in protecting fundamental property rights, but it's good to see lawmakers are willing to address this significant issue,” Kokai said.
HB 271 must pass both chambers of the General Assembly before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for final approval.
Union County representatives Dean Arp and Mark Brody are primary sponsors of the bill.