On Jan. 14th, 2015 State Rep. Chuck McGrady (R-117th Dist.) filed a bill proposing an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution in order to address concerns about the condemnation of private property within the state. House Bill 3 proposes to amend section 19 of the Constitution to explicitly state that (1) eminent domain should be used only to take private property for public use; (2) just compensation shall be paid whenever private property is taken; and (3) a landowner has a right to a jury trial in a condemnation matter. Rep. McGrady recently told the Hendersonville Lightning that “[a]mong state constitutions, only North Carolina does not expressly state that a government must pay for the private property it takes.” Indeed, even the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
A bill with nearly identical language has been filed in multiple prior Congressional sessions – by McGrady in the 2013-14 session (House Bill 8); by Rep. Brent Jackson in the 2011-12 session (House Bill 8); and by Representatives Stam and Lewis in 2009-2010 session (House Bill 1659). None of the bills has become law.
While these bills have been introduce to address a perceived deficiency in the Constitution, North Carolina statutes already state that eminent domain may only be exercised for “public use” (NCGS 40A-3, 136-103) and that such power may be used to acquire property only upon the payment of just compensation (NCGS 40A-2, 136-103 ). However, statutes are far easier to change than the state Constitution; statutes may be changed by a vote of legislators, while the Constitution requires any proposed amendments to be ratified by the public.
Interestingly, McGrady’s proposed bill also modifies North Carolina General Statute Sec. 40A-3(a) to add that private condemnors may use the power of eminent domain for the construction of “facilities related to the distribution of natural gas.” Given the timing, one may presume that this change is in response to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile long natural gas pipeline that will pass through West Virginia, Virginia, and eight North Carolina counties.