Two weeks ago, Virginia property owners seemingly were on the path to a big victory. The Courts of Justice Civil Sub-Committee voted unanimously to report HB 652, patroned by House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville), to the full committee. Normally, that puts a bill in the uncontested bloc in the full committee. Unless, of course, it gets picked out for some reason. It was. HB 652 would allow property owners to make a case to a just compensation jury to include land not taken by eminent domain but rendered useless by an access road, for example. But, literally, about an hour before the full committee met, The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which vigorously opposed the bill in sub-committee, submitted a Fiscal Impact Statement, saying the bill will "cost" the state $50 million over the next six years and must, therefore, be approved by the Appropriations Committee. Even though the bill had been filed for more than a month, VDOT apparently only found time to file the statement the day of the committee vote! Accordingly, yesterday, Courts of Justice passed and referred HB 652 to Appropriations where, we were just informed, it will be heard in sub-committee tomorrow!
What makes this particularly frustrating is that the numbers VDOT proposed are hypothetical. The bill does not guarantee the property owner extra money. Rather, it only allows him or her to make the case to the jury. Furthermore, by this logic, the eminent domain reform bill of 2007 NEVER would have been possible. Besides, if VDOT’s numbers ARE correct, it is admitting it has been cheating Virginians for decades! Most importantly, why is a government agency lobbying against its bosses — the people who pay the taxes that keep them in their jobs? This is government-by-tyrannical-bureaucracy at its worst!
Although we have allies on the Appropriations Committee, and many in and out of the General Assembly are upset by what appears to be a continuing pattern, coincidence or not, of trying to block needed reform by "Fiscal Impact Statements" — whose impact does not take into account that of taxpayers — nothing is guaranteed. We need your help to ensure this most precious of constitutional rights!