The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation has begun gathering petition signatures to get an eminent domain initiative on the November 2011 ballot.

The federation's proposal would limit eminent domain to direct public use, meaning the property would not be taken and given to a business. The move comes after several failed attempts to get an eminent domain bill through the Legislature.

"Our policy has always been for stronger eminent domain laws," Mississippi Farm Bureau President David Waide told The Clarion-Ledger. "We have a real problem with just anybody taking property away from owners."

Mississippi Farm Bureau, the state's largest general farm organization, has lobbied for eminent domain restrictions for years.

The government uses eminent domain to take private property for public use.

Last year, a bill that would have limited the state's authority to take property made it through the Legislature, but Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed it, saying it would hinder the state's efforts to attract industry.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said eminent domain allows the state to better compete for economic development, citing such projects as Nissan, Toyota, PACCAR and the Stennis Space Center.

"Without eminent domain, none of these huge job-creating projects could have happened," he said. "The bill that the Legislature passed last year — the one the governor subsequently vetoed — would have made it highly unlikely that any of those projects would be in Mississippi."

Organizers have until October to get 89,285 certified signatures — 17,857 from each of Mississippi's five congressional districts as they existed in 2000. Waide said he does not have a current count, but he expects to have enough by the deadline.

"We're pretty optimistic about it," Waide said. "I get a 5- to 6-inch stack of envelopes with petitions in them almost every day."

The organization sent petitions to its 204,000 member households through its monthly magazine. "That gave us quite a bit of exposure," Waide said.

State Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, said he signed the petition and has encouraged others to do so. "Property rights are one of the most basic rights we have," he said. "It's wrong to take people's property and give it to a business so that it can profit off of it."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.