Late in last year’s General Assembly session, legislation that would give Virginians the opportunity to vote on a Constitutional amendment protecting property rights passed the General Assembly. Since the Supreme Court’s notorious Kelo decision several years ago, property rights advocates have been working toward this amendment in Virginia, only to be thwarted by the state Senate. In a surprise chain of events in the final hours of the 2011 session, the Senate passed the bill by an overwhelming vote of 35-5. To amend the Virginia Constitution, the same legislation must pass the General Assembly again this year, after the intervening election (November 2011), without any changes, then go to the ballot in November for the voters’ approval.
Considering the bill received 35 votes in the Senate and passed the House with 83 votes, one would think passage this year would be little more than a formality. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case, as special interests, especially local governments, are working overtime to deny Virginians the opportunity to vote. In fact, many localities are using your taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists to fight your right to protect your property!
The passage of the amendment not only faces hostility from local governments, but other complications as well. The amendment bill left undefined two key phrases, “lost revenue” and “lost access,” two legal areas concerning how much lost revenue or access a property owner can be reimbursed for should the government use its power of eminent domain to secure their property. Those terms will have to be defined legislatively in separate bills. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has been working with interested parties for several months on defining these terms appropriately in hopes that doing so will facilitate passage of the amendment.
These bills protecting your property rights are important to farmers, small business owners, churches and ministries, and home owners across Virginia. There are certainly times when government must be able to take property and justly compensate the property owner for the good of the community. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court so widely defined those purposes that it has become a tool for “economic development” schemes and government expansion. There are examples of this misuse in Virginia where local governments took property simply to increase their revenue base.
The Family Foundation will continue to work with property rights advocates in the General Assembly like Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Delegates Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) and Johnny Joannau (D-79, Portsmouth), as well as the Attorney General, to ensure that one of our most fundamental rights, our right to be secure in our property, is protected.