North Carolina’s State House passed HB 3 which attempts to limit eminent domain powers.  The bill, which has 69 House sponsors and co-sponsors, would add language to the North Carolina constitution specifying that local and state governments can take private property with “just compensation” only for a “public use” and would guarantee a jury trial if requested by the condemnee.  Sponsor Rep. Chuck McGrady, stated his belief that these requirements are already in North Carolina law, but unlike most states, are not in its constitution.  It is the first step towards a ballot measure to amend the NC Constitution.

The US Constitution – and many other state constitutions – have a “public use” requirement that must be satisfied before the power of eminent domain can be exercised.  However, federal law – most notably restated in the infamous Kelo case, holds that the term “public use” means “public purpose” and does not mean that the public must be permitted to use the condemned property.  Rep. McGrady stated, “Some courts have talked in terms of a public purpose or public benefit, and with time, the test has gotten rather fuzzy or has morphed.”  “The bill will mean that a public use does not mean the taking of property in order to convey an interest in that property for economic development,” McGrady said. “We’re not trying to make new law here. We’re just trying to make sure North Carolina’s law stays what it is.”

Nearly identical provisions passed the House in 2013 and 2014 by overwhelming margins, and similar bills won House approval in prior years, but Senate leaders have refused to take up the matter.  It is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.  If passed by the NC Senate it will allow a ballot measure to amend the State constitution.