Kelo decision

As Big Vote On Property Rights Looms, VDOT Continues To Subvert Property Rights Amendment

On Monday afternoon, the House Courts of Justice Civil Law Sub-Committee will consider SB 194, patroned by Senator Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), a bill to put at least a partial stop on the practice of inverse condemnation, a back door method of eminent domain without just compensation prohibited by the Property Rights Amendment to the Virginia Constitution ratified by 75 percent of Virginians in 2012. (Click here for a previous posts explaining this devious process.) But it doesn't stop there. VDOT has practiced a long line of abuses to prevent the people of Virginia from enjoying what our constitution calls a "fundamental right," which is the most basic of God given rights. Property ownership is cherished as a fundamental right along with all those enumerated in the Bill of Rights, for without property, one has no protection from the government to practice free speech or worship, or even to own a home or make a living to support one's family.

For example, this op-ed by Roger Chesley in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, appropriately titled, "VDOT takes the low road on bait and switch tactics on land grabs," plainly explains the horrors of VDOT on the Ramsey family in Virginia Beach and why actions such as this sour voters on all government. VDOT bought the Ramsey’s property in an eminent domain case but now, because VDOT’s own actions have devalued the property, it is suing the Ramsey’s for a refund!

VDOT’s tactics in the Ramsey case are one of several it is using to sully government and hammer families into submission. VDOT fought for eight years against eminent domain reform after the deplorable Kelo decision. Now, despite the massive mandate of the Property Rights Amendment less than two years ago, VDOT continues to subvert it and torment hard working Virginia families by taking their property and not paying just compensation. Here's a list of VDOT's other actions, and below, see a video of a VDOT official lobbying against your rights while being paid by your hard earned tax dollars.

* VDOT is using the practice of inverse condemnation to devalue property, not act on it for lengthy periods during which period nothing can be done to the land, effectively taking it off the market, so that it can then buy the land for a fraction of its original worth. This not only rips off the families who often have owned the land for decades, but also is a backdoor subsidization of the project, hitting the family twice — once for its annual taxes to the Commonwealth and taking its property on the cheap.

* VDOT has attached Fiscal Impact Statements to eminent domain bills for years, a clear conflict of interest! This has unfairly condemned bills to failure. Furthermore, each FIS is nothing more than speculation. More than that, the cost of land acquisitions is the cost of doing business, just as are costs radio advertising or gas. Does VDOT file an FIS on its fuel vendors?

* By its own admission, through its Fiscal Impact Statements, VDOT admits it has ripped off the Virginia taxpayers for years by refusing to pay fair value. If there is a fiscal impact on purchasing property, the General Assembly could not have passed the eminent domain reform law in 2007, much less the Property Rights Amendment to the Constitution. VDOT’s actions equate to an attitude that property owners only rent their property until VDOT needs it.

* VDOT has a budget of land acquisitions. If it needs more money, it needs to seek it – not take people’s property cheaply.

* VDOT employees lobby the General Assembly at taxpayer expense to hold down just compensation for families’ lands — a double blow against the citizens of Virginia who effectively are compelled to pay government employees to lobby against their fundamental rights!

VDOT is a menace to Virginians in every region of the Commonwealth, urban or suburban, of all socio-economic means. It is up to the General Assembly to reign in VDOT! Click here to ask members of the House Courts of Justice Civil Law Sub-committee to vote for SB 194 tomorrow!

Forward the video to about the 25:30 mark to hear a VDOT official lobby this Senate committee against SB 194, trying to deny your rights while being paid by the hard earned tax dollars you send to Richmond!

Attorney General Cuccinelli Condemns The Condemnors In Norfolk

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has clearly articulated defined constitutional principles his entire career and as attorney general he has vigorously defended them in high courts and in the court of public opinion. Yesterday, he was in the latter, making his case at a Norfolk news conference where he discussed how the abuse of eminent domain power against local property owners by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority dramatizes the need for voter approval of the proposed constitutional amendment on property rights (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). The event highlighted the well publicized case of Central Radio, a 78-year-old business that the NRHA is desperately trying to force from the property it has owned for 50 years, where it provides essential equipment for the U.S. Navy, and where it must remain to continue to meet its contract's requirements. But Central Radio's plight clearly is not a unique case. Also at the news conference, its attorneys announced its appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court to stop the condemnation of Central Radio and other properties for private economic development at Old Dominion Village. Mr. Cuccinelli said:

We have fought every year since before the 2005 Kelo decision to strengthen property rights in the commonwealth through various bills and three attempts at a constitutional amendment. A property rights amendment to Virginia's constitution is the ultimate protection Virginians need, and voters will finally have a property rights amendment to vote on in the November ballot. Hopefully then — finally — we can put this dreaded and abominable era of government taking private property from one landowner and giving it to another behind us. ...

The defense of property rights is the defense of a founding principle of this country. It belongs in our constitution.

The constitutional amendment has four reforms:

» Private property can only be taken for true public uses, not for enhancing tax revenues, economic development, or private gain;

» The cost of taking property must be borne by the public, not by the individual property owner. Fair and full compensation must be given when property is taken or damaged — this includes loss of business profits and loss of access (which is be defined by companion legislation that will take effect if the amendment is ratified);

» No more property can be taken than is necessary for the project; and

» The burden of proof that the taking is for a true "public use" is on the entity taking the property.

Currently, Virginia has statutory protections for property owners. It passed the General Assembly in 2007, and Mr. Cuccinelli, then a Virginia senator, was one of the patrons of the legislation. It provides homeowners, farmers and business owners the protections in the first amendment's first feature. For example: A locality or state agency cannot take a family business, church property, homes or farmland in order to turn it over to a private developer for a shopping mall. If the developer wants it that much, it  must make a convincing offer to the landowners. As the attorney general said, "It is not the city's job to force people out of their homes or businesses for the developer." Unfortunately, this is a regular occurrence in Virginia.

But the 2007 law does not include all the protections the amendment contains. Not only that, but special interests every year since have tried to chip away at it and will continue their attempts to weaken it until the "permanent" constitutional protections are ratified by Virginians.

The proposed amendment, after seven years of debate in the General Assembly, finally won its required second approval last session by legislators after the required intervening election and no changes to the resolution's language, and is on Virginia's ballot this November. While it received broad bipartisan support, it faces hostile opposition by local governments, "public-private" groups, housing authorities, and others connected to local and state government (including developers) who see passage as eroding their power over the citizens they are hired to serve. Making matters worse, they have used their residents' hard-earned tax money to lobby the General Assembly against this basic right by opposing the proposed amendment and property rights statutes since 2005. They have been largely successful, with two exceptions: 2011 and 2012, and 2007. This November, as they go to the polls, Virginians can end the debate once and for all.

Update: Senate Passes Property Rights Constitutional Amendment!

A couple of hours ago, the Virginia Senate passed by a 35-5 vote, a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would protect private property rights and curb the government's power of eminent domain. Don't be deceived by the vote. Often, at the General Assembly, legislation with the largest vote margins were the most difficult to pass, with twists and turns, near-deaths, deaths and resurrections. All could be said of this resolution. While it does not have the iron clad language on just compensation as it did coming out of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, ironically, it still goes beyond the House version and does guarantee just compensation for "lost profits" and "lost access" — but it leaves it to the General Assembly to legislate those definitions (which means more work to be done next session!).

Now the resolution goes back to the House of Delegates since it was changed from its version. Acceptance of the Senate's amendments is almost a certainty, with House members openly eager and excited about the opportunity to vote on something given little chance in the hostile Senate when session started, and stronger than when it left the House! (No need to risk going to a conference committee, especially after the Senate has killed attempts for years, including earlier this year.) Just goes to show . . . anything can happen at the General Assembly and nothing should surprise anyone.

Opponents will say they got what they wanted out of it but the truth is they wanted none of this. They lost. Liberty and limited government won today! Never underestimate the influence of an election year. This played out similarly to the eminent domain reform statute the last time the Senate was up for election, in 2007.

Next steps: The resolution must be passed again by the new General Assembly next session — with no changes. That done, it will go to Virginians to ratify at the polls in November 2012.

More to come later. However, we cannot go any further without a bit of thanks — a bit, only, because it is impossible to adequately thank him — to the resolution's patron, Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Without his determination, legislative skills and persuasive public oratory (we will have video later), we would very likely have to wait another three years (for a total of nine) without the possibility of property rights protection since the infamous and deplorable Supreme Court Kelo decision.

Breaking News: HJ 693, Property Rights Passes Committee 8-7! Close Vote Expected On Floor!

Today was one for the ages. A long shot priority piece of legislation, HJ 693, a property rights constitutional amendment patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), passed in sub-committee and full committee! Within the last few hours, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 8-7 to report the resolution to the full Senate. Joining all six committee Republicans were Democrats Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath). Now that it is on the Senate floor, we urgently need you to contact your senator and ask him or her to vote for HJ 693 to ensure the fundamental fairness of property rights and just compensation when your property is taken for a legitimate public use. Property rights are fundamental to our liberty, and to ensuring our family life, our jobs and businesses, and even our places of worship. Strong property protections limit government growth and intrusiveness. Now we are closer than ever — the first time in six years since the U.S. Supreme Court's deplorable Kelo decision — to getting these rights enshrined in the Virginia Constitution.

It is very close, but very winnable, so we cannot let this opportunity to get meaningful protections fail. For the longest time the Virginia Senate has been a roadblock, but tonight we are on the doorstep!

Today, in both committees, about a dozen special interests lined up: Utilities and big corporations, and local governments and housing authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) lobbied relentlessly for the right to take your property for reasons other than true public uses. But a committee majority bravely listened to the people and now we have a real chance to see this resolution passed by the General Assembly and on the ballot for Virginians to vote on.

But we need you to act NOW!

The full Senate may vote on this as early as tomorrow and most likely Thursday. Now that we've come this far in the Senate, don't let the special interests win by your inaction! Please take a short moment to contact your senator and ask him or her to vote for HJ 693!

Your voice matters! Please act now on this Family Foundation priority legislation!

Six years is long enough! Urge your senator to vote for HJ 693 on the Senate floor so that we can finally have the constitutional protections for our private property rights that other states have!

Click here for your senator's e-mail address.

Click here for your senator's General Assembly phone number.

Liberty Or Death Vote For Property Rights Tomorrow Morning In Senate Sub-Committee!

It's hard to believe that just four people hold the fate of protecting the property rights of all Virginians, but that is the number of votes needed to pass or kill a proposed property rights amendment to the Virginia Constitution in the seven member Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments (see members here). A previous Senate resolution this session died on a 4-3 vote in this sub-committee and now the House version, passed 81-19 by that body, will be heard tomorrow morning in a liberty or death vote — it must pass in order for the full committee to hear the bill and to have a chance to get to the Senate floor (where it would have a good chance of passing).

Please contact members of the committee and ask them to vote to report HJ 693 to the full committee! Ask them to listen to the will of the people and protect your property rights.

While the Virginia Senate has proved to be a roadblock for property rights and reform of government’s oppressive power of eminent domain, Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed HJ 693, a state constitutional amendment patroned by Delegates Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) and Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), by an overwhelming 81-18 margin. This mammoth bipartisan vote surpasses even the 60-something vote the eminent domain reform statute received in 2007. Now, tomorrow morning, the Senate sub-committee will have a choice: listen to local governments and unelected housing and redevelopment authorities or the people they represent.

Defending our property rights is a longstanding principle of The Family Foundation, and we've supported efforts for several years to pass a constitutional amendment that answers the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous and deplorable Kelo decision. Property rights affect all people, across all socio-economic and geographic lines. Whether urban, suburban or rural, Virginians are subject to losing their homes, farms, and family-run or small businesses to dubious "economic development" schemes, "revitalization" plans and government pork and boondoggle projects without this vital constitutional protection.

Without secure property rights, we only borrow our property from the government until it needs it; we have no security for our families, economic advancement or even to practice our faith. While government will always be here, our homes, businesses and places of worship have not such guarantee.

While many states rushed to grant their citizens state constitutional protections after the Kelo ruling, Virginians have waited six years for the Virginia Senate to act! This amendment must pass the Senate this year and both chambers again next year so Virginians can then vote on it at the ballot box in 2012. If it fails Tuesday, we must wait at least three more years – and we’ve already waited six!

Virginia passed a law in 2007 in response to Kelo, but developers, utilities, and local governments and housing and redevelopment authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) have tried each subsequent year to chip away at that statute. In short, as good as the statute is, it needs the protection only a constitutional amendment (HJ 693) can provide.

While Senate Roadblocks Property Rights, House Reflects People's Will 81-19

While the Virginia Senate has proved to be a roadblock for property rights and reform of government's oppressive power of eminent domain — first, by defeating SJ 307 4-3 in a sub-committee vote, then refusing to bring it to the full Privileges and Elections Committee, then blocking a discharge motion to bring it to the floor — all hope of passing a constitutional amendment to guarantee these protections is not lost this session. That's because at the same time the Senate majority Democrats defeated Senator Mark Obenshain's discharge motion on SJ 307 Tuesday, the House passed HJ 693, patroned by Delegates Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) and Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), by an overwhelming 81-18 margin. This mammoth bipartisan vote surpasses even the 60-something vote the eminent domain reform statute received in 2007. Now, this coming Tuesday morning, the same Senate subcommittee that earlier in session listened to local governments and unelected housing and redevelopment authorities instead of their constituents, will get another chance to listen to the will of the people and protect your property rights.

Contact members of the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments Tuesday morning (members' contact links here) and ask them to report HJ 693.

Defending our property rights is a longstanding principle of The Family Foundation, and we've supported efforts for several years to pass a constitutional amendment that answers the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous and deplorable Kelo decision. Property rights affect all people, across all socio-economic and geographic lines. Perhaps the most affected are urban families, whose homes and businesses are considered an inconvenience to urban planners' redevelopment schemes, most of which always fail (think Richmond's 6th Street Marketplace).

While Virginia passed a law in 2007 in  response to Kelo, developers,  utilities, and local governments and housing and redevelopment authorities (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights) have tried each subsequent year to chip away at that statute. In short, as good as the statute is, it needs the protection only a constitutional amendment can provide.

Final Chance For Property Rights Constitutional Amendment Friday Morning!

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.

It is urgent that you contact committee members to support this vitally important issue. Better still if one is your delegate. Click here for links to their contact information.

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!

Constitutional Protections At Stake Friday Morning In House P&E

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.

Property Rights Debate Re-Scheduled For Senate Sub-Committee Tuesday Morning!

Last week we wrote a post on urgent action needed on an important piece of legislation: SJ 307, a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution to protect property rights from excessive eminent domain and provide just compensation to landowners when a public taking truly is necessary. The patron of the resolution, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), subsequent to the post, asked the sub-committee to carry it over to this Tuesday morning — and we desperately need you to contact your members of the sub-committee, and urge them to vote for the resolution (click here for sub-committee members)!

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its deplorable Kelo decision several years ago — it said while the federal courts could not protect property owners from local and state governments — it basically invited states to enact their own protections. Most did. Why are Virginians still waiting for their legislature to act?

Right now, lobbyists for local governments — who use your hard-earned tax dollars to work against your rights at the General Assembly — and large utilities and telecoms are working behind the scenes with their considerable resources, to strengthen their hand for your property. No less than 10 government and corporate groups are lined up against this amendment, while The Family Foundation (see our Constitutional Government paper), The Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council are among the few working for the many — that is, the people.

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. Local and state government have 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! You are a force equalizer. Please contact these senator and express your desire to see Virginia protect your property rights — your homes, farms and businesses!

Property Rights In The Balance Friday Morning In House Of Delegates!

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!

Big Property Rights Vote Tuesday Morning In Senate Sub-Committee!

After a slow first few days of ceremony and housekeeping, the 2011 General Assembly session moves into a very high gear with several crucial issues before sub-committees. We need you to act immediately on an issue that is the foundation of all of our liberties: Property Rights. Tomorrow at 9:15 a.m., the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments will consider SJR 307, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg). This proposed amendment will enshrine in the state constitution the landmark property protection legislation passed in 2007, but which has come under assault in each successive General Assembly.

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. We also think we are close in the sub-committee — so your voice matters! Please contact sub-sommittee members and express your desire that they vote for S.J.R. 307 to protect Virginia families' homes, farms and businesses!