State Politics

Should NC’s constitution limit eminent domain? House votes to back amendment

Rep. Chuck McGrady
Rep. Chuck McGrady

The N.C. House voted 104-9 Thursday morning to back a proposed constitutional amendment limiting government’s use of eminent domain to seize private property.

The bill now heads to the Senate, and if it passes, voters would decide during the November 2018 election if they want to amend the state’s constitution. The amendment would ban eminent domain in cases where government seizes property only to sell it to a private developer, by requiring that all property seized be for “public use.”

Those uses could include utility infrastructure, roads and government facilities. The amendment would also give property owners who sue over eminent domain an opportunity to have a jury – instead of a judge – determine how much money they’re owed for the property.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville, said the bill is needed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed an expanded use of eminent domain for what’s termed “public purpose” or “public benefit” projects – but are often situations in which government takes private property only to sell it to a real-estate developer.

“The Supreme Court said that the states were free to restrict eminent domain more than that, and that’s precisely what we’re doing here,” McGrady said. “We’re putting it in the constitution so we don’t have the same morphing that has occurred in other places.”

The House has tried repeatedly to get the same constitutional amendment on the ballot, but the Senate typically hasn’t held a vote on the House bills. Last year, the Senate approved the measure but also tacked on two unrelated constitutional amendments – one capping the state’s income tax rate, the other addressing hunting rights – that House leadership didn’t support.

“I’m hoping we’ll be a little more successful in getting the Senate to move on this bill,” McGrady said Thursday. An identical bill has already been filed in the Senate by Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, with 16 GOP senators signing on as co-sponsors.

The nine votes against the eminent domain proposal in the House were all Democrats, including Reps. Rosa Gill, Grier Martin and Darren Jackson of Wake County and Rep. Philip Lehman of Durham.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter