Governor signs legislation to guard property rights against eminent domain

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Gov. Bob McDonnell signed four pieces of legislation Monday intended to protect the property rights of Virginians. House Bill 5 (R. Bell) and its companion, Senate Bill 240 (Obenshain) calls for a referendum for a constitutional amendment to protect private property rights from the power of eminent domain on the Nov. 6, ballot.

The other part of the legislation, HB1035 (Joannou) and SB437 (Obenshain) provide definitions for the terms “lost profits” and “lost access” and tell how to determine the amount of just compensation.

According to the governor’s office, question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot will read: “Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?”

Speaking about the bills, McDonnell said, “This legislation is an important step toward including necessary private property protections in Virginia’s constitution. Protecting the liberty and property of its citizens is a fundamental role of government, and this constitutional amendment makes those protections stronger in Virginia.”

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who helped write the amendment, said, “It has been seven long years of effort, but with the passage of the property rights amendment, our citizens are one step closer to enshrining in the Constitution of Virginia the protections they deserve from overzealous governments and the developers who use them to take away Virginians’ homes, farms and small businesses. We have fought every year since the 2005 Kelo decision to strengthen property rights in the commonwealth through various bills and three attempts at a constitutional amendment …” 

The bill has won support from many groups. Virginia Farm Bureau and a coalition of other groups including the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Americans for Prosperity has launched a campaign to encourage voter support.  “Our members are excited about the opportunity that this constitutional amendment will provide,” Wayne F. Pryor, the farm bureau’s president, said in a statement. “No longer will our farms, homes or businesses be taken and given to another private property owner under Kelo-type eminent domain abuses.”

Many local governments, on the other hand, opposed the amendment, saying it will make legitimate economic development projects more expensive to undertake.

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