Originally created 11/05/06

Property rights expected to be strengthened



COLUMBIA - Voting yes on the eminent domain constitutional amendment Tuesday would prohibit governments from seizing private property except for public use.

Voting no will keep the constitution just as it is.

State lawmakers recently said they anticipate a lot of yes votes.

"I think they (South Carolin-ians) will vote for it, and I think that they will hopefully understand (solidifying property rights) in our constitution," said Sen. Vince Sheheen, D-Camden,.

Mr. Sheheen sat on the six-member conference committee that struggled to find consensus on property-rights legislation at the end of the last S.C. legislative session.

Gov. Mark Sanford, House and Senate members all made eminent domain legislation a priority after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2005 expanded governments' ability to seize private property for the purpose of economic development.

More than half of the states have addressed eminent domain since that decision, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

South Carolina and Georgia are among 13 states with ballot issues on property rights this fall, making it the most popular ballot issue, according to the NCSL.

South Carolina lawmakers in the House and Senate agree on the constitutional amendment, stating that government can seize property only in order to use the land for a public use.

Land could be condemned for private use only if it was blighted.

But the Senate and House haven't agreed yet on the statutory language that would further define what they intended by the amendment.

"When you only have a constitutional amendment, the courts decide what (the language) means," House Speaker Bobby Harrell said.

A statute is not necessary, but provides guidelines, he said.

The law now states that "Except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, private property shall not be taken for private use without the consent of the owner, nor for public use without just compensation being first made therefor."

Mr. Sheheen said the amendment protects South Carolinians from future judicial rulings that might expand eminent domain powers.

"(Current state judges) are doing a very good job of protecting private property rights in terms of eminent domain," Mr. Sheehan said.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.

LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS AMENDMENT

South Carolina voters also will be asked to amend the constitution to give lawmakers flexibility over when they'll meet.


Currently, if either the House or the Senate wants to adjourn for more than three session days, the other chamber needs to give permission.


The amendment would allow the House or Senate to adjourn for up to 30 days with a majority vote, or with a two-thirds majority vote for a break longer than 30 days.


House Speaker Bobby Harrell said there are stretches of time when there's little work to be done on the floor of the House, such as when bills are still in committee.


"It's a waste of tax dollars for us to show up when it's not required," he said.


Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said that, if the amendment is approved, most lawmakers could stay home for days while committees get work done.


"It'll offer, I think, a level of efficiency," Mr. McConnell said.

THE AMENDMENT

Must Section 13, Article I of the Constitution of this State, be amended so as to provide that except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, private property shall not be condemned by eminent domain for any purpose or benefit, including, but not limited to, the purpose or benefit of economic development, unless the condemnation is for public use; and to further provide that for the limited purpose of the remedy of blight, the General Assembly may provide by law that private property, if it meets certain conditions, may be condemned by eminent domain without the consent of the owner and put to a public use or private use if just compensation is first made for the property; and must Section 17, Article I of the Constitution of this State, be amended to delete undesignated paragraphs that give slum clearance and redevelopment power to municipalities and housing or redevelopment authorities in Sumter and Cherokee Counties; and must the Constitution of this State be amended to delete Section 5, Article XIV, which provides slum clearance and redevelopment power over blighted properties to municipalities and housing or redevelopment authorities in Spartanburg, York, Florence, Greenville, Charleston, Richland, and Laurens Counties?