They said it couldn’t happen here. They said we were safe. They said the law was clear. They were wrong.
Turns out that under current North Carolina law, the government can take your private property for economic development just like they did in Connecticut under the Kelo case.
In the April 25, 2006 meeting of the House Select Committee on Eminent Domain, the lawyer for the committee (after researching North Carolina law in conjunction with the Institute of Government), discovered that North Carolina law does in fact allow condemnation for economic development (N.C. Gen Stat § 159-82(3)m). He said it was, “a surprise to all of us.”
Apparently not too much of a surprise to eight local governments who took advantage of that power when ten separate laws, the first in 1981, were passed allowing them to condemn private property for economic development projects.
The committee quickly drafted a bill to repeal the law. They will introduce it when the General Assembly meets for its Short Session on May 9, 2006. But even if the bill passes, will we be safe? No.
Here’s the problem – a law is only a law and can easily be changed. The General Assembly changes every two years with each election. One legislature cannot bind the actions of future legislatures. In other words, everything is fair game every two years. Civitas has exposed how bills are crafted behind closed doors and provisions are inserted in the voluminous budget and other bills with little or no opportunity for review from the members or citizens.
Even if this bill does in fact eliminate the ability of the government to take private property for economic development (and have they really found every single possible loophole in the current laws or are there more “surprises” out there?) , it can be changed again at any time.
Here’s the only solution – a constitutional amendment. The constitution can only be changed by a vote of the people of North Carolina , not by the whim of a politician.
Private property rights need to be protected in North Carolina and it needs to be done now. There is no telling how many other “loopholes” exist in our current law that just have not been discovered yet. Is there another “surprise”?
Some members continue to believe that the law is enough protection. Committee chair Wilma Sherrill said that under the proposed bill (that only changes the law), “Kelo could never happen here now.” and Rep. Lucy Allen said, “There’s not a clear need for a constitutional amendment.” Rep. David Almond was the only committee member to express concern that they had not explored a constitutional amendment.
Legislators will introduce several bills during the short session of the General Assembly, some will propose to only change the law and at least one will propose a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment is the only thing that will finally and absolutely protect private property rights from condemnation for economic development. It needs to be on the ballot in November.