Op-Ed: Sleight of Hand: Eminent Domain Expansion Coming to NC?

(Allen Chesser is a candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives. The father of five is a combat veteran, former police officer, and a former candidate for U.S. House of Representatives.)

While North Carolina voters have been laser-focused on national issues such as the Muller Report and “The Squad”; some pretty interesting things have been happening in the arena of state politics. While some issues are well known (Gov. Cooper vetoing the proposed budget) others have attempted to pass undetected as to avoid public scrutiny. One such bill is the newly proposed state constitutional amendment “limiting” eminent domain.

H.B. 3 (also called the Eminent Domain bill) was trumpeted as a bipartisan attempt to reign in the governments ability to seize privately owned property by striking references to “public use or benefit” and limiting it to “public use” only. In fact, introduction to the language of the bill states that “Private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for a public use. Just compensation shall be paid and shall be determined by a jury at the request of any party.” (p.1 lines 11 & 12) However, this is no ordinary bill. Our legislators believe in protecting our property rights so strongly that they have proposed H.B. 3 as an Amendment to the North Carolina State Constitution. The amendment was pushed through by leadership in the early session of 2019 where both the 2nd and 3rd readings passed the state house by a vote of 94 YEA -21 NAY (with all NAY votes coming from the Democrat delegation) on Feb. 27, 2019.

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N.C. legislative leadership and rank and file members instantly took to social media and local news outlets, issuing press releases and statements praising the merits of the bill:

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“The state must be more accountable in exercising eminent domain only for public use, providing just compensation, and never forcefully transferring property from one private owner to another for economic purposes” … “This is a basic principle of the Bill of Rights that should be made clear in our state constitution.” – N.C. House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore

Even local watchdog organizations like the John Locke Foundation andCivitas Institute weighed in on the amendment:

” North Carolina’s failure to adequately protect private property from eminent domain abuse is one of the primary reasons why we languish in the bottom half of states, both nationally and regionally…” – Jon Guze (John Locke Foundation)

” HB 3 Eminent Domain. The bill allows voters to consider an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit the government from seizing private property via eminent domain except for public uses. The amendment also requires that just compensation be provided for all property and in the case of condemnation cases, and in the case of property owners the right to trial by jury is established. Civitas Action believes HB 3 helps to protect property rights and limits abuses by the government such as seizing property via Eminent Domain and selling it to private developers. The vote for freedom is yes.” –Civitas Action

(Disclosure: I am in the process of reaching out to both the John Locke Foundation and Civtas Action to discuss their opinions on this bill. I believe that both of these organizations, and their members, are true patriots focused on protecting the individual liberties of the people of North Carolina and I look forward to our discussions.)

So the big question is: Does this 2-page bill actually restrict the governments ability to revoke your property rights? A quick read of the proposed language (found here) would suggest No. In fact, this amendment actually expands eminent domain powers in our state to unconstitutional levels. I understand that’s a pretty bold statement, so allow me to explain:

While it is true that public “use or benefit” is struck from the previous version of the bill and replaced with public “use” (p.1 line 28), that is the end of the proposed restriction. Under the section titled “By whom right may be exercised” (p. 1 line 27) the very first  “Public Condemnor”  is “Corporations” (line 31), telegraph and telephones are consolidated under “communication facilities” (seems innocent enough; lines 34 & 35), but “facilities related to the distribution of natural gas” were added — this is important in my community (Nash Co.) as many local farmers live along the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route. (p.2 lines 1 & 2) While all of these Public Condemnors appear limited under this section by the burden of “public use”, this bill now grants privately owned corporations the ability to take private property from a citizen if they can prove “public use”; it becomes even more troublesome as we move toward the bottom of the bill.

In a brand new Section “(d)” (beginning on p.2 line 25) titled “Connection of Customers” the definition of “public use” is expanded:

” For the public use, private condemnors, local public condemnors, and other public condemnors” … “shall possess the power of eminent domain and may acquire by purchase, gift,or condemnation any property for the connection of any customer or customers.”

In this section the definition of public use is expanded to include “the connection of any customer”. This means that if a private property owner (ie: you) stands in the way of an “approved” corporation and their profit, instead of having to negotiate with the property owner the corporation can seize the land as a government surrogate.

This is an unconstitutional expansion of crony-capitalism that elevates the priorities of government and corporations above the property rights of the individual. While it’s being packaged and branded as a bill to “strengthen our private property rights against eminent domain” (see Rep. Barnes tweet above) this amendment would do the opposite; void any semblance of a person being secure in their personshousespapers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. (see Amend. 4) For the sake of not casting stones, I’ll admit that it may not be the intended purpose of the amendment, however, the powers granted in this bill could easily be used to further expand corruption — and given the claims of corruption already surrounding the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Gov. Coopers “slush-fund”; I don’t believe the addition of natural gas facilities to be in good faith to the people of North Carolina or the property owners of Nash County.

Now, my desire is not to leave you holding a problem with no solution, there is a silver-lining; the bill currently sits with the State Senate Rules Committee. If the Senate were to vote this bill down, or let it die in committee, then this threat could be averted. If, like me, you disagree with the government giving corporations the ability to seize your land, then I urge each of you to reach out to friends and family, the Senate Rules Committee or your elected state House and Senate representatives about this bill.

 

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