An amendment to the North Carolina Constitution has moved one step closer to being considered by the voters, following recent activity in the North Carolina House of Representatives. This bill was discussed first on this blog, here: Another Push for Constitutional Amendments in NC Eminent Domain and Condemnation , and the legislative process is moving forward.  The main impact of the bill is that it would narrow the power to take property by eminent domain to cases involving a public use and prohibit taking by eminent domain for private economic development.  The amendment would also ensure a right to a jury trial to determine what amount would provide a landowner just compensation for the taking in a condemnation case.

House Bill 8 was filed on January 30th and referred to the House Judiciary Subcommittee the following day.  Within only a week, the Judiciary Subcommittee took the bill up and issued a “favorable report” on the proposed law.  A favorable report means that the members of the committee recommend that the remaining members of the House pass the bill.  The result is that the bill is now placed promptly on the calendar for consideration by the House at large.  Many times, bills can get sent to a subcommittee and they are never to be heard from again, or the committee can decline to endorse the proposal.  But this proposal had plenty of support.  Of special note, the constitutional amendment proposed did not have any opponents in the committee, and there was no minority or dissenting report issued.

It appears that this proposal to change North Carolina’s eminent domain laws will easily pass the House.  Again.  You see, a virtually identical bill has passed the House with similar ease in recent years, including measures in 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011.  This legislative history largely explains the absence of any opposition to the bill.  In each of the previous attempts, the sponsors of the bill have adapted it to address the concerns of other lawmakers.  One of the chief sponsors of the bill, House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam, a Republican from Wake County says the current bill is an improvement over earlier versions. Stam said, “As I looked back on some that [earlier] language, it would have been bad,” and he observed that the latest version is “clean, it’s short, as a constitutional amendment should be.”

House Bill 8 might not be over its biggest hurdles yet, however.  The North Carolina Senate has been the chief barrier to the passage of prior changes to North Carolina’s eminent domain laws.  Senate leaders have stated that the public is not really clamoring for the new law, although there is probably more momentum among the Republican caucus this session than in years past.  It is unclear what impact, if any, the recent and contentious marriage amendment might have on the future of this bill.  Some political analysts may wish to avoid another constitutional ballot measure, while others might see this history as an encouraging sign that voters are willing to consider such amendments.  Another factor that could bode well for House Bill 6 is the recent election of Republican Governor Pat McCrory, since previous governors considering the bill could have posed greater risk to its passage.  No matter what, we will have to await further activity by the North Carolina Senate, and that is only after the floor vote in the House on February 12th.  Stay tuned.

You can read the entire bill here: