The intrigue this session in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee continues. Remember the saga of SB 504? It was in COJ, and passed out of a sub-committee, only to be abruptly referred to the Committee on Education and Health. Today, for some unexplained reason (and it may be on the up and up) HB 652, a property rights/just compensation bill, which was supposed to be heard in the COJ Civil Sub-committee was (with selected other bills) singled out to be carried over straight to the full committee on Monday morning. If HB 652 passes there, it likely will be referred to the Finance Committee because of an alleged "fiscal impact." Oh, the things I wish I could tell. But can't. But hope to once the coast is clear!
Back to matter at hand: HB 652 is a great bill that will go a long way to making whole families whose businesses, homes and farms are horribly affected in eminent domain cases. The bill, patroned by Delegate Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and co-patroned by several Republicans, passed the House 98-1, and the Appropriations Committee said it caused no fiscal impact to the Commonwealth. However, we think there may be some skeptics in the Senate, so please act (see below). The bill would allow property owners a chance to present evidence that a government taking has rendered other property useless, and therefore receive adequate compensation. It is a fairness bill — it guarantees nothing — only that a farmer, small business owner or family can present the evidence to a jury in eminent domain cases. The government can still make its case and if it has a good argument it will win. Fair is fair.
But the big government types — counties, cities and VDOT, who use your tax money to lobby against you — are trying hard to kill this bill. They say it is "too expensive" even though all alleged "costs" are speculative. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) said it best: "I don’t know how VDOT can arrive at an impact. It’s like they’re predicting juries!" We agree, and if VDOT and other agencies say they’ll have to pay more money, it’s an admission that it has been ripping off landowners in Virginia for decades already! Enough of that! (See refutation of FIS.) Let them take only the land they need and pay a fair price for it or don’t take it at all — then they won’t have to worry about a "fiscal impact."
According to our property rights expert witnesses, this is the biggest eminent domain reform law in Virginia in decades, apart from the 2007 law that defines public use. It would be a shame for it to get this far only for a Senate committee to rule against the people in favor of big government interests whose appetite for your tax money never abates.