eminent domain

Major Property Rights Vote In Senate Courts Committee Tomorrow!

Last week I wrote about the need to support SB 194, a bill to protect property owners from inverse condemnation, a technique that subverts the Property Rights Amendment to the Virginia Constitution voters ratified in 2012 with 75 percent of the vote. On Monday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee considered the bill and asked for a clarifying amendment from its patron, Senator Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg). Tomorrow, the committee will vote on the final version. While the “body language” of committee members of both parties seemed favorable, nothing is guaranteed when the bill actually comes up for a vote. The opposition, which includes environmentalists, big money special interests such as utilities and railroads, local government and VDOT – the same unholy coalition that fought the Property Rights Amendment for eight years – is fighting this bill just as hard.

Why? Because this bill will shut down their backdoor subversion of the Property Rights Amendment, “inverse condemnation,” which skirts the prohibition on eminent domain. It is especially galling that local governments and

Here’s what government agencies now do: when it needs land, it publicly announces its intention to take land for “development rights” or for “conservation easements.” However, the agencies don’t make an offer for the land. Meanwhile, the property instantly loses massive value. It’s called “condemnation blight.”

The property owner can’t sell it to anyone, because the land can’t be developed. The government agency can take its time – often years – until the property is so cheap, its compensation to the owners for the taking is a fraction of what it once was worth. This is a backdoor method of making taxpayers subsidize government!

SB 194 will protect property values by allowing the owner to get compensation for what the land was worth at the beginning of the condemnation process and to receive just legal expenses in these indirect takings, just as owners do who have their land taken by conventional eminent domain. Often, property owners are intimidated from going to court for fear of expensive court costs.

Please click here for members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

 

Reminder . . . GO VOTE! Then, Participate In Our Open Thread

As if you needed one. But remember, polls close at 7:00 p.m. in Virginia. Don't chance a thing. If you have not voted yet, take traffic, your work schedule, any errands you must do and, possibly, long lines into account, and arrive in plenty of time. (If you need to learn where your polling place is, visit  www.WhereVAVotes.com.

Also, remember: The Family Foundation Action supports Question 1 and Question 2, state constitutional amendments to limit the government's power of eminent domain and to allow the General Assembly to reschedule its annual one day "Veto Session" when it conflicts with a religious holiday, respectively. Please spread the word about these amendments. The more people know about them, the more they favor them. Share the posts linked above. There's still time.

As if you need any reason to vote, and make that last hours push to get others to the polls, perhaps this will get you to boil:

Then, once you are done voting, and taking a break from contacting others to vote, let us know about your election day experience. How's turnout in your area? Were the partisans polite or punchy? What are your predictions for Virginia and the nation? Did you meet a candidate at your precinct? Anyone of note stop by your volunteer office? We'd love to know what you're experiencing today. Leave your comments here or at our Facebook page or tweet us at #TFFOpenThread.

The politicians have done all the talking for months. But now, the floor is yours!

Paid for by The Family Foundation Action and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

Hands Off My Home, My Church, My Business: Be A Founder And End Eminent Domain Abuse, Vote YES On Question 1!

The proposed state constitutional amendment to protect Virginians from the abuse of eminent domain is the most important Virginia Constitutional amendment to limit government power before the voters in years. Ratifying it with a YES vote tomorrow will limit the size, power and scope of state and local government. A government that knows no bounds in taking property can take anything, including  the freedom to worship, to work and to live. Opponents of the amendment have made so many absurd accusations about the amendment's affects, if passed, it's hardly worth dignifying them. One, in a Washington Post editorial recently, said it would be "corporate welfare." Wrong! Corporate welfare is what we have now, with local governments taking private property on the cheap and giving it to developers to build big box stores and malls.

In the same breath, we're told by local governments that the amendment will stifle economic development, for the very reason it won't be able to provide the real corporate welfare (i.e., it won't be able to take land and turn it over cheaply to rich corporations). Isn't government supposed to be the guardian of the little guy? In fact, the best way to spur economic development is to ensure that risk takers and job creators will be able to develop and build their own businesses on their own land without the fear that one day the government will seize it for something it determines will be of better use.

Perhaps the most incredible charge is that the amendment will force higher taxes. Huh? That's a rich argument coming from local governments, which can't wait to hit its citizens with every new fee and tax it can conjure up. All of sudden, these governing bodies, which use our tax dollars as is to lobby against our interests and rights at the General Assembly, are concerned with our tax burden. They claim the amendment's just compensation clause will drive up the costs of acquiring land when a taking truly is necessary. So, what local governments are admitting is that have been cheating their citizens all these years by not paying them the true worth of their lands! In truth, this amendment will make governments choose their projects wisely, prioritize and hold down costs.

The amendment will do four things, only one of which is in the current statute — which itself can be watered down by a future General Assembly if not protected by the strength of the constitutional amendment:

1. It elevates owning property a "fundamental right" which is an elevated status of law in court. It gives the citizen more protection and the condemning authority a higher standard of proof.

2. It offers just compensation, not only for the land taken (barely covered in current Virginia law), but also compensation for lost business expenses and profit, as well as for lost access to a business in the cases where the government alters a property's entrance which causes the loss of business.

3. It allows only for the taking of such land that is needed. This prevents local governments and state agencies from taking excess land for a project and sitting on it then selling it later for a profit, leaving the landowner in the cold.

4. Most importantly, the amendment will prohibit the taking of land for anything other than a true public use — a school or a road, for example — something that the entire public needs and can use, and prohibits the taking of land to give to a private entity. It protects farmers, suburban land owners, small and family business owners, churches (which don't pay taxes and whose properties are jealously eyed by economic development departments always looking to increase tax revenue to grow government), to the inner city home owners, who too often have been victimized by displacement by redevelopment and housing authorities that think they know better what to do with the homes than the owners.

This amendment is important and fundamental to our rights. Virginia's Founders — Madison, Jefferson, Henry, Mason, Washington — enshrined property rights as a basic right of liberty to own property without fear of its confiscation by a despotic government. Unfortunately, over the decades, it's been stripped out. Here is a rare opportunity to restore our liberties and for generations to come, a chance to be a Founder of sorts.

Here are two short videos. In one, Bob Wilson, President of Central Radio in Norfolk, who is being hounded by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority to give up his business for an Old Dominion University commercial plaza, explains the injustice of eminent domain. In the second, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, explains his support of the amendment, what it does and why its ratification Election Day is important (see Virginia Social Conservative Blog).

Tomorrow Is Almost Here: The Election Is In Your Hands

What seems like one of the longest presidential campaigns in history comes to a conclusion tomorrow (we hope!) as Americans go to the polls. Pundits and prognosticators are predicting a close election, with Virginia being one of the states that the experts believe is still hanging in the balance. As national Christian leaders remarked last week, one state — Virginia — can determine the outcome of the entire country's future. Does that motivate you to vote and get others to the polls? I know I don't have to tell you about the importance of tomorrow's vote. Obviously our nation is in a tenuous place, morally and economically, and whether or not one election can change our course or not remains to be seen, but we have a clear choice between presidential candidates on both moral and economic issues. For weeks, The Family Foundation Action has worked to ensure that pro-family, pro-life voters are identified, educated and mobilized. I know pastors around Virginia have been encouraging their congregations to vote the principles of life, marriage and religious liberty when they make their decisions tomorrow.

If you haven’t yet, please review our 2012 Presidential and U.S. Senate Voter Guide at vavotes.net and be sure that your friends and family have seen it as well. I believe it presents very clearly where the candidates for President and the U.S. Senate stand on issues that are important to you and me.

Please remember the new voter ID requirements in Virginia. You can learn more about what you need to bring with you to vote at the State Board of Elections website. Also, if you have any doubt about your polling station's location, please click here to find it. It's important that you show up at the right place! Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.

Remember also that there are two state constitutional amendments on the ballot. The Family Foundation Action supports both. Question 1 would protect property rights and limit the government’s power of eminent domain. You can read more about this amendment by clicking here and here.

Question 2 is a technical change to the constitution regarding when the General Assembly’s veto session is held during years when veto session falls on a religious holiday.

Everyone who walks into a voting booth tomorrow will "vote values." The question is whether they will vote for the things they value or the things God values.

The answer is now in your hands.

 

Paid for by The Family Foundation Action and not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

 

Do It Today: Register To Vote!

With this election being one of the most important in our lifetimes, it is imperative that pro-life, pro-family Virginians register to vote, make an informed decision and cast their ballots on November 6. Just as other demographic groups are mobilizing, Christians should fully participate in faithful citizenship in our representative democracy. It is our Christian duty to fully participate in our country's future.

But while Election Day is less than a month away, today is the deadline to register to vote! 

If you are not registered to vote, or know of people who are not — members of your church, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors — use and share this information. Too much is at stake in this election. Know the issues. Educate others. Register to vote and cast your ballot! You can learn more at The Family Foundation Action's voter education site, vavotes.net.

If you haven't already done so, register to vote today! If your friends, family, and neighbors haven’t yet registered and are eligible, let them know that today is the deadline! Won't you take a few minutes out of your day today to download a form, fill it out and ensure it is postmarked by today? Or forward this information to others and encourage them to register? Or even go in person to your local registrar, library or DMV, and maybe take someone with you for such a crucial election that will impact not only our future, but our present? It's simple:

To register to vote, click this link to visit the Virginia State Board of Elections website, print the form that will appear and get it postmarked by today; or go by your local registrar's office, public library or DMV to pick up a voter registration form. Click here for more information.

Then encourage others to do so: Forward them this link via e-mail or post it on your social media sites. But please be sure to register to vote, then cast your ballot. If you are not available to vote on November 6, you can vote in advance (click here to learn more).

For the time being, though, be sure to register to vote. Then examine the candidates for all offices: President, U.S. Senate, House of Representative, and any local offices that may be on the ballot in your city, county or town, as well as the all-important ratification vote to secure your property rights from eminent domain in the Virginia Constitution. Click here to view our 2012 Voter Guide to learn which candidates will take responsibility for the issues that face our nation today and best reflect your foundational Judeo-Christian principles.

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.

Central Radio Eminent Domain Case To Be Appealed To VIrginia Supreme Court

In what could be a landmark property rights case, it looks like the Central Radio eminent domain lawsuit against the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority will enter a new phase. Attorneys for the 78-year-old company, which does vital work for the U.S. Navy and employs more than 100 people, on Thursday will announce they will appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court to stop the condemnation of Central Radio and other properties for private economic development at Old Dominion Village. (The news conference is set for the company's offices in Norfolk at 3:30. Attorneys from the Norfolk law firm Waldo & Lyle will provide details of the appeal.) The NRHA, which has hounded Central Radio for years, and RHAs around Virginia have been a particular menace to private property owners in the commonwealth for decades, swiping land from hard working family-owned and small business owners in order to fulfill their centrally planned ideals that often include turning the property over to larger private entities and developers. (Hampton Roads area governments have been particularly lustful of others' property.)

But this case is particularly heinous because not only does the NRHA want to forcefully take Central Radio's property to hand it over to another private concern that it says will develop the land better, it knows it will put the company out of business because its contract with the Navy stipulates that it is located within a certain distance of the Navy's facility — and it has been at its current location for 50 years.

Adding further insult, the City of Norfolk is attempted to silence Central Radio's free speech rights with a threat to fine it $1,000 a day for hanging a banner from its building informing the public of its fight with the NRHA. The city says the size of the sign exceeds city a ordinance. Oh, by the way, Old Dominion University, which a beneficiary of the property taking, routinely displays signage of equal dimensions in the same neighborhood.

The fight on the additional legal front means more expense and hassle for Vice President and Co-Owner Bob Wilson and Central Radio, when it could be using that money to reinvest in the company (which he and his employees did build). Nothing like government of the government, for the government and by the government. (See Norfolk-Virginian Pilot op-ed by Steve Simpson and Erica Smith, attorneys at the Institute for Justice and an earlier news account by the same paper, here.)

In addition to Central Radio's attorneys and Mr. Wilson, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will speak at the news conference to discuss how the abuse of eminent domain power against private property owners across Virginia dramatizes the need for the constitutional amendment on property rights that will be on Virginia's ballot this November. It is, of course, opposed by local governments, who will use our tax money to defeat a measure to guarantee our rights. However, come November, on Question One, Virginians will have the opportunity to restore in some measure government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Governor Bob McDonnell signs legislation authorizing the vote this November for Virginians to ratify the proposed state constitutional amendment to protect private property rights from state and local government's power of eminent domain. Sitting, on the left, is Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Standing behind him, from left, are the legislation's patrons, Delegate Rob Bell, Senator Mark Obenshain and Delegate Johnny Joannou. Standing, front row, on the right, is Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb.

When A $15,000 Government Bill Costs Taxpayers $505,000

"We're from the government and we're here to help." Usually used as a line in a joke, that expression actually applies far too often — as in the government trying to help, but instead turning a situation pear-shaped. A recent example involving VDOT and a Wythe County farmer is the latest example, for only In Virginia can a government agency turn a $15,000 cost into a $505,000 bill for the taxpayers. But it's not simply the money. We often lose rights in the process, which makes perfect sense of  these situations to government bureaucrats.

This issue resulted from the Virginia Department of Transportation's refusal to pay a landowner $15,000 to clean up debris from construction work on property it seized with the power of eminent domain to expand a highway (see Roanoke Times). Years later, a court decided in favor of the property owner, a decision that ended up costing Virginia — that would be you and I, the taxpayers — more than $500,000 in attorney fees, reparations to the property owner and other costs.

This November, you can help address this major problem by voting YES! on Question One, a constitutional amendment protecting your property rights, as well as your wallet.

The government's power to take property for "public use" was expanded by the U.S. Supreme Court, in its deplorable 2005 Kelo decision, to include increasing tax revenue — a threat not only to private landowners but also to churches and religious institutions. After all, religious organizations don't pay property taxes. Replacing those buildings with strip malls or big box retailers that pay taxes and feed local coffers is a temptation some local government officials simply can't control. In addition, government often doesn’t compensate landowners for their actual financial loss when their property is seized or when access to their property is infringed upon.

The court inflated the legal term "public use," meaning a school or other necessary facility used by the public at large, to a new term,  "public purpose." This new term gives state and local governments wide latitude for concocting reasons for which it could seize private property — including, mist commonly, turning one's property over to a corporation that will develop it to increase tax revenue for the government to use for whatever broader purpose it wants under the guise of "economic development."

To address this, after seven years of debate, effort and inaction, even as many states rectified Kelo within a year, the 2012 General Assembly finally passed legislation putting a property rights constitutional amendment on the ballot. While support for property rights is strong, a coalition of organizations that support property rights, including The Family Foundation, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and others, are working to make sure Virginians understand how important it is to support this crucial ballot initiative.

The protection of property rights was a principle critical to our Founders' vision of America. Unfortunately, as with many of our Founding Principles, it's up to the citizens to remind government that we still believe in and want those principles to be enforced.

"Vote YES!" yard signs will be available soon at our field offices. Contact a field representative in your area to reserve a sign today:

Fairfax/Alexandria

William Zimmerman: (T) 703-568-4093 (E-Mail) william@novafamily.org

Edward Newland (T) 515-505-5383 (E-Mail) Den81590@alumni.marymount.edu

Prince William

Willie Deutsch/Bill Pfister (T) 515-505-5209 (E-Mail) willie.deutsch@gmail.com

Metro Richmond

Ron Gallagher (T) 804-591-5909 (E-Mail) FFA.Gallagher@gmail.com

Greg Culbertson (T) 505-515-5280 (E-Mail) greglc7@gmail.com

Peninsula

Tim Pogge (T) 515-505-5224 (E-Mail) timpogge89@gmail.com

GA Issues 2012 - Protecting a Fundamental Right

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.

Local Governments Never Go Out Of Business Lobbying Against Your Rights And Interests

Anyone who reads this blog with the slightest of regularity knows that a major issue we've tried to bring to voters' attention is the fact that local governments use taxpayers' money to lobby against their interests, rights and liberty at the General Assembly. Whether it's through direct lobbying or through a collective effort via their associations (the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties), and almost always through both by large cities or counties, local governments actively work to empower themselves at their citizens' expense and use their hard-earned tax money to do so. It's as if they consider themselves apart from the citizenry and look out for their own fiefdoms, while the serfs unwittingly fund their own demise. A case in point was exposed in Tuesday's Washington Post concerning how well Fairfax County fared during the recently completed session, as if the county was a citizen seeking relief from government rather than the special interest local governments have become. While much of the article concerned school funding (which might not be such a problem if local governments and school boards supported much needed reforms) there were two telling sections:

County officials lobbied against a measure that would begin the process of amending the state Constitution to prevent the use of eminent domain for economic development. Fairfax officials said they thought the measure went too far.

As if protecting homes, businesses, farms and places of worship is something that can be negotiated. How would local governments like it if their ability to tax was negotiated? Oh, wait:

(Supervisor Jeff McKay, a Democrat) expressed frustration that perhaps the most comprehensive approach to solving the region's transportation woes was barely given a hearing — a bill put forward by (Democrat Delegate Vivian) Watts that would have changed the way that gasoline is taxed and allowed Northern Virginia to impose certain taxes to fund projects in the region.

If it's not taking your property, limiting your choice in education or the right to spend your money in gargantuan proportions, you can be guaranteed it's always about the right to tax you more (and more and more). Poor, poor Supervisor McKay . . . denied the right to suck away more hard-earned money from his constituents, especially gas taxes as gas station light bulbs blow out staying current with daily price increases on the way to $4.00 a gallon. It's estimated now that 15 percent of disposable income is spent on gas and we can expect food prices (and other items) to continue to climb  as transportation costs skyrocket.

But as families look for ways to make ends meet, pay the mortgage, plan for their children's college and other financial responsibilities, and worry if their jobs, farms or businesses will exist in a week, month or year, local governments continue on. They know their future. As long as they have us to foot their bill, they're golden. After all, has a local government ever gone out of business?

Saslaw On Eminent Domain Reform: He Voted Against It Before He Voted For It

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, two of the 20 reasons why this year's General Assembly mattered were the abortion center safety bill and the proposed constitutional amendment to protect property rights. Both, at numbers one and nine, respectively, were Family Foundation priorities. So, it's with no small reason that we emphasised those pieces of legislation and that we revisit one of them today — property rights (see Washington Post article on our influence on the legislation). That's because one senator who voted for the property rights resolution (HJ 693) is very much on record as being against constitutional protections from eminent domain. He made that very clear in 2007, when he helped kill a similar resolution. See for yourself:

As the video explicitly shows, Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), now the majority leader, not only pronounced his opposition to protecting citizens from government seizing their land, but said it twice — on succeeding days. No slip of the tongue there. What a difference four years and this November's upcoming-tough-battle-to-keep-his-majority makes. Although he was most assuredly working behind the scenes to stop this year's amendment as well, once the train left the station, and not willing to leave his caucus exposed on a popular campaign issue, Senator Saslaw (D-37, Springfield) decided to vote for the resolution.

Not only that, and perhaps to even things out from four years ago, Senator Saslaw voted for it not once, but twice — on the original vote (here) and on a reconsideration vote (here), when some senators finally figured out that property rights really do belong in the constitution and wanted to upgrade from nay to yea before their constituents found out. It required a double take to believe he did not vote no when given the second chance, but despite what people think, miracles and conversions (of the election year kind) do happen, and happen often at the General Assembly.

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.

Update: Still No Vote On Property Rights, Still Keep Calling Your Senators!

The Virginia Senate vote to protect property rights from the government's overwhelming power of eminent domain again was put off today. One reason given was a senator's absence due to attendance at a funeral, but no one doubts negotiations continue, especially within the Republican caucus, while not losing key Democrats. It's a tight balancing act. However, this delay affords grassroots activists another chance to keep the pressure on. If you have not, please contact your senator and urge him or her to vote for HJ 693, the protection of property rights from eminent domain (patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou, D-79, Portsmouth). The best way to deny government's appetite for continued growth and limit its intrusiveness is to protect private property and ensure just compensation for the true and few public uses that require a property taking. The only way to do that is to secure our liberties in the state constitution.

Contact your senator by e-mail.

Contact your senator by phone.

Learn who your senator is.

Update: Vote Delayed Friday As Senators Negotiated; Insist They Keep Toughest Property Rights Protections In HJ 693 On Today's Vote!

Legislation rarely goes in a straight line at the General Assembly, least of all when it concerns eminent domain. In 2007, the statute that eventually passed appeared completely dead at one point. Now we face a similar situation in getting a constitutional amendment passed. Late last week an excellent resolution for a state constitutional amendment (HJ 693) stunningly made it out of a Senate committee and to the floor for the first time after years of trying. However, there is fierce and determined opposition by very powerful interest groups, with great amounts of resources at their disposal. This opposition necessitated negotiations between them and their Senate allies with senators, who, like us, absolutely are committed to language that includes just compensation for victims whose property — personal and business — is taken through the power of eminent domain.

So, on Friday, Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) asked that HJ 693 be "passed by for the day," while he works on substitute language that addresses the issues some have with the resolution while still protecting its substance.

Property rights are fundamental to ensuring family life, our jobs and businesses, and even our places of worship. Strong property protections limit government growth and intrusiveness. Because it is a fundamental aspect to our liberty, The Family Foundation remains committed to this issue and the most comprehensive property protections for families, farmers and their businesses.

The Senate again will attempt to vote on HJ 693 this afternoon. Senators read their e-mails and take into account calls up to the last minute. It is not too late to make your voice heard to counter the special interests. Contact your senator and insist he or she support the strongest language in HJ 693 to protect property rights and the just compensation for those whose property must be taken for a true public use.

Contact your senator by e-mail.

Contact your senator by phone.

Learn who your senator is.

Update: HJ 693, Property Rights Constitutional Amendment, Passed By Again; More Time To Contact Your Senator!

The property rights resolution (state constitutional amendment), HJ 693, patroned by Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), was passed by on the floor of the Senate again today. With numerous interested parties, on both sides of the issue, watching with great intent on monitors throughout several rooms in the General Assembly Building and capitol, Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made the motion that it be by passed by for the day. The pro forma courtesy was granted. The reason: unclear, though one senator, not involved in them, said it was due to negotiations. Negotiations? Always negotiations! Frustrating observers and activists was that the resolution was the last piece of legislation on the calendar — all that time listening to debates over occupancy taxes and prison sentences for attacks on emergency room personnel for naught.

On the other hand, it provides more time to contact your senator and urge his or her vote for HJ 693, as well as more publicity about it. Two more radio talk shows in Richmond, that I'm aware of, have or will beat the drum today and tomorrow; and more time to share this information on your social media sites. A sampling of senate office staff indicates that calls and e-mails are running well ahead for supporting. Hopefully, the big utilities and big local government lobbyists (who use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights, such as supporting eminent domain) aren't using this delay to cool down the temperature. Still, another reason to keep the pressure on!

Contact your senator by e-mail.

Contact your senator by phone.

Learn who your senator is.

Senate Property Rights Vote Delayed; Contact Your Senator If You Already Haven't!

I was hoping to write about a smashing, never-in-a-million-years-possible victory on property rights protection tonight; about  how we were one step closer to enshrinement that fundamental right into the Virginia Constitution. However, the Senate delayed the vote on HJ 693 (Delegate Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth) until tomorrow. This one day delay gives you another chance to contact your senator, if you have not already done so, and ask him or her to vote to ensure this basic, fundamental right: To own property — for family, business or farm, or any legal reason — and not fear the government's power of eminent domain, where it can take it and hand it over to a corporation because it can produce more tax revenue than your house or business. The right to own property, and be justly compensated for it if a true public need requires a government taking, is a requisite tool to preserve individual liberty and curb the growth and intrusiveness of government. It also is a matter of basic fairness: Some localities in the past have taken entire neighborhoods on the pretext that one or two houses were "blighted" and sold to developers for huge amounts of money.

We strongly urge you to contact your senator now. It will be a close, but winnable vote. This is historic — the Virginia Senate has not taken up such a measure in recent memory. People who believe that government has become too big in size and scope now must take only a few moments to click below and make their voices heard to their elected representatives. This is our moment. If this vote fails, we will have to wait at least three more years for the opportunity to vote at the ballot box for a state constitutional amendment to guarantee this precious and God-given right.

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 of a historic victory. Securing private property rights ensures stable families, jobs, farms and even the right to worship freely. Let's beat back the special interests and local governments once and for all and ask your senator to represent you, not government.

Politicians come and go. The courts are unpredictable. The only permanent protections of our rights are those in the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions. Please act to ensure them now.

Contact your senator by e-mail.

Contact your senator by phone.

Learn who your senator is.

Senate Rules Dispute Boils Over Into Rare Discharge Motion On Floor: Full Senate Finally On Record On Protecting Property From Eminent Domain

A bit of history was made — or at least attempted — Tuesday in the Senate. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), expressing the frustration of an arbitrary exercise of Senate rules by majority Democrats, made a discharge motion — a parliamentary procedure to bring to the floor of a legislative body a bill that has been defeated or bottled up in committee. A discharge motion hasn't been attempted in the Senate in nearly two decades (see Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). It's considered desperate and an affront, especially in the "collegial" Senate, because it doesn't respect Senate procedure and the "committee process" (i.e., the opinion of your colleagues who have heard the patron, witness testimony and debate, and studied the legislation) — it's done with, so let it be — and slows down floor action. It's rare because those who attempt it often are ostracized by most, if not all, of their colleagues. Its required two-thirds majority vote also is difficult to achieve, so the risk-to-cost ratio isn't appealing.

However, it's on the books for a reason or it wouldn't be a rule — precisely when the committee process has degenerated into a, "the rules are what we say they are," selectively applied, moving target. Senate rules and tradition are that sub-committees take recommendation votes only, and that full committees hear every bill for a final vote. Last year, the Senate, in an unprecedented move, changed its rules after crossover to allow sub-committees (with as little as two votes) to kill House bills so as to save members from going on record on tough votes in full committee. Rule changes in midstream are almost unheard of, but even at that, Senate bills always have been given the courtesy of full committee hearings. Where's the "collegiality" in revoking that process? (While House rules allow for the killing of bills in sub-committee, it is in its rules, and they are applied equally, to all bills, throughout session.)

I got an inkling of the Senate mischief at this session's first meeting of the Privileges and Elections Committee. The chair, Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Reston), announced that no bill with a negative sub-committee vote would be brought to the full committee. Senator Obenshain asked if he heard correctly and, when told "yes," protested to no avail. But the discussion boiled over into a rules battle at a subsequent meeting (see Washington Post) when he tried to bring up bills and resolutions with negative sub-committee votes in full committee (see video below). Which brings us to Tuesday on the floor:

Senator Obenshain attempted to dislodge SJ 307, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect private property from government takings through eminent domain. It was defeated 4-3 in a Privileges and Elections sub-committee on an unrecorded party line vote (notice that omission here). Amazingly, only four unrecorded votes can thwart the will of the people in the Virginia Senate! A small forum in a cramped conference room on the third floor of the GAB is the venue for the debate and discussion on whether the commonwealth will protect one of its citizens' most cherished rights — the protection of private property from the oppressive government power of eminent domain.

But in a surprise move, after consulting with his caucus earlier that morning, Senator Obenshain got his full Senate vote on property rights during a marathon session to finish bills before crossover. He motioned "to suspend the rules" and bring SJ 307  directly to the floor. He was seconded by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). The motion properly before the body failed to get a majority, much less two-thirds, on a strict party line vote, 22-18. If SJ 307 made it to the floor through the committee process, it most likely would pass. Unfortunately, some Democrats adhered to process over propriety. The good news is that the Senate finally, after several years, has a recorded vote on property rights and that the GOP caucus united on this rare motion.

There should be a rule about that: The Senate majority preaches collegiality . . . except when hearing and voting on its members' legislation. 

Reminder: Private Property Rights Faces Liberty Or Death Vote Tomorrow In House Committee!

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.

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.