Virginia is a presidential battleground state that also has a hotly contested U.S. Senate race on the ballot this fall.
But Virginia voters also will decide this fall whether to amend the state’s constitution to define limits on the government’s authority to take private property under eminent domain.
Gov. Bob McDonnell this morning ceremonially signed legislation to put the question on the Nov. 6 ballot. And a coalition of advocacy groups launched a “Vote Yes for Private Property Rights” campaign to build support for the amendment.
“”I know they’re going to be focusing on the presidential race, the United State Senate race, the congressional race, but this is a very important question for the people to decide,” McDonnell said this morning in a ceremony at the state Capitol.
The General Assembly approved the constitutional amendment in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., which allowed for the taking of private property for an economic development project.
State lawmakers first passed a 2007 law that defined “public uses” under which government or public corporations could take private property. It then moved to strengthen protections for property owners with a constitutional amendment that, among other things, would ensure “just compensation” for a property owner whose land was taken for a public use. Just compensation would include lost profits and lost access resulting from the taking.
“The cost of the taking has to be borne by the public,” said Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, an advocate for the amendment. “If we’re going to take your property for the benefit of the community, the community needs to bear that cost — not just you because you happen to live in the wrong place at the wrong time or your business was located there. “
Local governments raised concerns about the amendment during last winter’s General Assembly session, saying it could drive up the cost of extending water and sewer lines to new developments and hurt economic development efforts.
Question 1 on the 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?”
Cuccinelli said he hopes voters approve the measure decisively.
“I’d love to see 80-20,” he said.
McDonnell signed bills sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, to put the referendum on the ballot, and bills sponsored by Obenshain and Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, that define the terms “lost profits” and “lost access” and how to determine just compensation.
The groups behind the “Vote Yes for Private Property Rights” campaign include the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Forestry Association, the Virginia Poultry Federation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Family Foundation of Virginia.
– Michael Sluss