Under the Dome

Constitutional amendment on property rights headed to House floor

House lawmakers are reviving an effort to put a constitutional amendment before voters that prohibits governments from taking private property for economic development through eminent domain.

The amendment -- approved by a House committee Wednesday and headed to the full House next -- would appear on the November 2014 ballot. Other provisions would make changes to state law effective upon passage. The House passed a similar version in the previous legislative session by a wide margin but the Senate didn't vote on the legislation.

"It will not stop all eminent domain but it would stop the parts of it that violate the property rights," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, an Apex Republican.

The bill would put protections into the state constitution that prevents local governments from taking land for "public benefit" and limit such claims to "public use." It is a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court Case Kelo v. City of New London and what lawmakers believe is overreaching by local governments who condemn property and sell it to private developers.

The main questions on the amendment involved whether it would affect fracking, a controversial practice of natural gas extraction that the state wants to enable.

"Is eminent domain going to be used to carry out fracking," Durham Democrat Mickey Michaux asked in committee.

State Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, replied: "No, not to my knowledge. There's nothing in this bill that would provide additional powers to the state or local governments to get into the fracking business."

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