Tomorrow morning, the constitutional right to own property in Virginia without fear of government seizure (eminent domain) is on the line in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Please contact members of the committee and urge them to report HJ 647 and/or HJ 693. Read here for the details.
After two weeks of delays, one of the most important committee votes of the 2011 General Assembly will take place Friday morning in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Members will consider a constitutional amendment to safeguard your property rights from the power of eminent domain by state and local government and utilities. It is the last chance the committee has to approve the resolution if it is to meet the "crossover" deadline and pass it to the Senate. If there is no constitutional amendment passed this session, the earliest chance Virginians will have to vote on one will be November 2014.
There are two identical resolutions before the committee: HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) and/or HJ 693, patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). This has been a long and difficult process, with a lot of work behind the scenes, but little to show for it so far, fighting off the big utilities as well as local governments who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights. Friday, however, is our chance to move the ball forward for constitutional protections, limited government and economic and personal liberty.
Eminent domain is one of the most powerful and intimidating tools government has to increase its size, expand its reach into our lives and limit our freedoms. Without constitutional protections, you only borrow your property until the government takes it for whatever reason it determines. Without property rights, we don’t have secure homes for our families, the liberty to practice our faith, or the opportunity for economic advancement.
The fact is, ever since the deplorable Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, local and state governments have had eyes bigger than their stomachs for homes, farms and small businesses to feed their economic development schemes and pork barrel projects. Worse, sometimes they take private property and turn it over to another private entity. In one heinous case in Hampton, the city took private property for a pittance, and then sold it to a developer for millions while the original owner saw none of the extra money.
The Kelo decision was in 2005. The General Assembly has kept us waiting long enough to secure our constitutional rights to private property. Now, tell them the waiting is over!
Nothing adequately can explain the pace of the General Assembly. Especially the short session. More goes on that we can — and would love to — report. It is no exaggeration to say that we could employ an entire news team to cover all that we see (and hear). Lobbying and blogging is a killer. But here's a week in review of some significant legislation. We had several legislative victories this week, including five resolutions to amend the Virginia Constitution this morning in the House Privileges and Elections Committee:
HJ 593, patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax), is a religious liberty amendment that protects public prayer. It passed by a 14-7 vote after some committee liberals raised several objections.
Also regarding religious liberty, HJ 614, patroned by Delegate Tag Greason (R-32, Loudon), which prohibits the state from blocking tuition loans and grants to students seeking theological education for the purposes of becoming a military chaplain. It passed with only three dissenting votes. This bill was debated thoroughly in sub-committee earlier in the week. The state already pays the salary of chaplains and Delegate Greason's amendment would allow for tuition assistance as well.
Three limited government resolutions also passed. HJ 539 requires a super majority vote by the General Assembly and local governing bodies to increase state and local taxes; and HJ 540 limits increased spending by the General Assembly and local governing bodies to the previous year's level plus the percentage increase in population and inflation. Both are patroned Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania). HJ 539 survived a procedural vote to kill it, and then was reported by an 13-8 vote, while HJ 540 passed by a 11-9 vote.
Finally, this morning, after extensive debate, HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico), the House Majority Whip, passed by a 14-7 vote. This resolution precludes tax and fee increases in the state budget. Any revenue increase, including the termination of tax credits, would have to be introduced as a separate bill for an up or down vote. In recent years, governors and lawmakers have buried such increases within billions of dollars of spending in the budget. Even when promulgated, many lawmakers had no choice but to vote for such budgets or else precipitate a government shutdown.
The proposed constitutional amendments to protect property rights were carried over and will be heard a week from today. Yesterday, there was good news on taxes: The House passed by a 94-5 vote HB 1437, also patroned by Delegate Cole, which would allow localities the option of ending the BPOL tax. This tax, which was started 199 years ago to fund the War of 1812, is a job killer and well passed its own life expectancy. The same day, by a 97-2 vote, the House approved HB 1587, patroned by Delegate Sal Iaquinto (R-84, Virginia Beach), which would exempt start-up businesses from the BPOL tax for two years.
Earlier this week, the House of Delegates passed another Family Foundation priority piece of legislation: HJ 542, The Repeal Amendment. Patroned by Delegate Jim LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly), it would repeal any federal law if two-thirds of the states agree. The bill was hotly debated in both committee and on the floor of the House of Delegates, with opponents making subtle and not so subtle accusations of racism toward supporters.
Next week is the final week before "Crossover," and with many bills still left to be debated, almost anything imaginable will happen. Even some unimaginable.
Things couldn't be stranger than fiction anywhere outside of Hollywood than on Shockoe Hill, where Mr. Jefferson's capitol sits. Today, in the House Privileges and Elections Committee, members debated for about 20 minutes if the word "that" should be amended to "which" in HJ 615, a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit tax increases and fees in the budget bill, thus honoring Virginia's "single object" rule. After several minutes of back and forth between committee staff and Delegate Dave Albo (R-42, Fairfax) — who continued to remind the committee they were discussing amendments to a bill that still was not the committee —and various others who chimed in, Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) recommended "where." A brief silence fell over the committee as it realized that, hey, a magic bullet has been found. Delegate Bell was at the center of another oddity. After much negotiation with interested parties — local governments and utilities — a compromise on a constitutional amendment to safeguard property rights was reach. Peace in the valley? Not quite. Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), with whom Delegate Bell has been working, had the exact same bill and amendments with opponents. All that was left was to decide which bill went forward. When the committee refused to adopt the Senate procedure of passing multiple bills with exact same language, there was no consensus as to which resolution should go forward. After several minutes, a frustrated committee ordered the resolutions held over to next week. ... Only at the Western Hemisphere's longest continually serving representative body.
On a scary note, Senator Toddy Puller was taken to the hospital by ambulance after choking on her lunch on the Senate floor (see Richmond Times-Dispatch). Senator Ralph Northam, a physician, rushed to her desk and assisted her. She is reported to be fine from this incident. However, Senator Puller, a stroke victim, needs special help to get around Capitol Square and the General Assembly Building. The Senate already is missing one member: Senator Yvonne Miller is recovering from heart surgery and may not return before February 1. Both women are Democrats. Without Senator Miller, there are 21 Democrats and 18 Republicans.
Tomorrow morning, the House Privileges and Elections Committee will consider a number of important constitutional amendments. Please contact committee members at the link above and encourage a vote for all three resolutions. One, HJ 615, patroned by Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico), will safeguard Virginians' tax dollars by banning tax and fee increases in the budget bill. If those revenues are needed, delegates and senators should have the courage to vote on tax increases separately, up or down, not buried in a must-pass budget with deadline pressure to approve so that state government can continue to function.
Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania) has two resolutions before the committee. One, HJ 540, will limit the amount state and local government can spend each year to the previous year’s budget, plus the percentage increase in population and inflation. This is a proven way to limit the size and scope of government. His second resolution, HJ 539, would require a super majority vote by the General Assembly and local governing boards to impose a tax increase.
The fourth resolution, and a major priority by several limited government advocates, is HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). It passed sub-committee by one vote and its full committee vote was delayed a week. In committee and behind the scenes, local government interests, who use taxpayers' hard-earned money to lobby against their own citizens, and large utilities and telecoms, are throwing every resource they have to defeat this proposal. Afraid of allowing Virginians to vote on the issue of protecting their own property, these special interests think property is private only until such time as they need it for their redevelopment schemes or transportation boondoggles. No less than 10 government and corporate special interests testified against the resolution in sub-committee, with only The Family Foundation, The Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council speaking in favor.
When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its deplorable Kelo decision several years ago (see Examiner.com's Kenneth Schortgen for a new, heinous eminent domain case), it said federal courts could not protect property owners from local and state governments. But it did rule that states could protect their citizens and basically invited states to enact their own protections. Most states did. Why are Virginians still waiting for their legislature to act?
These much needed policies will protect Virginia families’ homes, farms and businesses; enact honest state budgets; and put a limit on out of control taxing and spending. Together, these proposed constitutional amendments form a unique opportunity to reform state and local government, limit its power and focus it on its proper role.
This morning the House Privileges and Elections Committee voted to report the Repeal Amendment (HJ 542) to the floor by a vote of 15-7. All 14 Republicans were joined by one Democrat, Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). The resolution is patroned by Delegate James LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly) and is heavily supported by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg), did not go through sub-committee. It was the only legislation heard in the committee and discussion lasted more than an hour — some of it enlightening and, inevitably, some very disappointing, including opponents' injection of race into the debate. While opposition lawmakers tried to raise incendiary, irrelevant and inconsistent points, committee proponents and a plethora of witnesses (including The Family Foundation) underlined the necessity of rebalancing power with Washington, D.C., and the necessary re-establishment of our founding system of federalism. That's where we get our Quote of the Day, from Delegate Bill Janis (R-56, Henrico).
Responding to Delegate Mark Sickles' (D-43, Fairfax) contention that while Washington, D.C., doesn't do things efficiently, much less perfectly, it eventually gets it right, Delegate Janis replied, in part:
Washington, D.C., is 100 acres of fantasy land surrounded by reality.
The Repeal Amendment should be on the House floor early next week. If passed, it will go to the Senate where a version there was defeated earlier this week. The amendment, if approved by three-fourths of the states, would authorize a constitutional convention to adopt the Repeal Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. The Repeal Amendment would, with two-thirds of the states concurring, repeal any federal law or regulation in U.S. Code.
Last night we were gearing up for a significant legislative battle in committee Friday morning on one of our Founding Principles — property rights. However, we learned earlier today that the proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution will be carried over to next Friday in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee (click here to get members' contact information). The resolution is HJ 647 and is patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). (In sub-committee, HJ 498, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi, and HJ 515, patroned by Delegate Annie B. Crockett-Stark, were rolled into HJ 647.) In addition, Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) is the patron of HJ 693, which was brought straight to full committee, but which also will be carried over to next week. While it may be a let down in the short-term, we're hopeful the week will allow for more grassroots activism. While the Big Government lobby and Big Corporations may have a lot of money, but we have more voices. Ensuring private property and the just compensation of its owners in the cases where true eminent domain is required, is fundamental to preserving our liberty, because if the government can take your property, they can take your business, your church, your farm — anything — and claim it for a "public use." It happens with disturbing frequency and must be stopped. Use this week to contact members of the committee and urge passing of HJ 647/HJ 693, especially if your delegate is a member.
With housekeeping measures and session-opening pomp behind them, Virginia’s lawmakers now are at full pace in the "short session" of the General Assembly and there is no time to lose on a paramount issue that affects our freedoms — the protection of private property. On Friday morning, the House Privileges and Elections Committee (click here for members and contact links) will consider a constitutional amendment that will safeguard your property rights from state and local government and corporations, as well as ensure just compensation in circumstances when land must be taken for legitimate public uses. Earlier this week, a "P&E" sub-committee barely reported out, on a 3-2 vote (see vote), HJ 647, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville). Now it goes to the full committee with local government interests, who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights, and large utilities and telecoms working behind the scenes with every resource at their disposal to strengthen their hand when they want your property. No less than 10 government and corporations testified against the resolution in sub-committee, while The Family Foundation, The Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council speaking in favor. (A similar version in the Senate yesterday was carried over for a week.)
Without property rights, we don’t have secure homes. Without property rights, we don’t have the security to practice our faith. Without property rights, we have no economic security. The fact is, ever since the deplorable Kelo decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, local and state governments have had eyes bigger than their stomachs for homes, farms and small businesses to feed their economic development schemes. They’ve taken private property and turned it over to developers and corporations for malls and office parks, or for transportation boondoggles. In one heinous case in Hampton, the city took private property for a pittance, and then sold it to a developer for millions while the original owner saw none of the extra money.
At one time, Virginia was a leader in protecting property rights and our Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, ensured these rights in the Commonwealth’s constitution. However, in the last constitutional revision in the early 1970s, they were diminished. But now, with a reawakening of Founding Principles across Virginia and the nation, there is real momentum this year for true reform.
While Big Government and Big Corporations have much money, we have many voices — and they matter! They are a force equalizer. Please contact members of the committee and express your desire to see Virginia protect families’ homes, farms and businesses!
Today's version comes from the House Privileges and Elections Committee. Unlike most committee meetings where patrons and witnesses make statements and take questions from committee members, today's docket was so full, Chairman Mark Cole (R-88, Spottsylvania) only took reports from sub-committee chairmen, and comments from patrons and executive branch personnel for technical advice. So when Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) stepped up to the rostrum for his HB 2509, a voter integrity and identification bill, only for the committee to pass it 17-5 in a heart beat, Marshall said:
"I do better when I don't say anything."
While the room laughed, it absolutely erupted when Delegate Chris Jones (R-76, Suffolk) rejoined:
"I'll remind you of that on the floor."