eminent domain reform

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!

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.

Beat Back Big Government And Protect Property Rights!

Thursday afternoon in the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee, a bill to allow people to receive just compensation when their property is taken by the government in eminent domain cases will be heard. The bill, HB 652, is supported by a broad coalition including The Family Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Tertium Quids (see comment here) and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  The bill passed the House of Delegates 98-1, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the Senate. The patron of the bill is House Democrat Leader Ward Armstrong (D-10, Martinsville) and is co-patroned by several Republicans.  It faces the forces of big government — VDOT and local governments who use our tax money to hire lobbyists to work against our interests — who forced the bill while in the House from the Courts of Justice Committee to the Appropriations Committee with a tactic designed to kill it. There is no doubt they will pull out all the stops in the Senate as well.

But we can beat them in the Senate, too: In the House Appropriations Transportation Sub-committee, Delegate Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), a senior member of the committee, said he HB 652 came to his attention after he received more e-mail on it than any other bill this session. It shows that actively engaged citizens truly have power!

The bill simply allows property owners to present evidence to juries that they deserve just compensation for land not taken in eminent domain cases, but rendered useless because of the taking of adjacent land.  Right now, people are compensated only for the land taken, not additional land that the taking has rendered unusable. The bill is a complement to the landmark 2007 eminent domain reform law that limits government abuse of people’s property rights.

This is a very fair, very needed and very just bill for families who own homes, small businesses and farms.  If government really needs your land, they should buy only what they need and not try to get more of it on the cheap. This bill costs government nothing — it only provides for a fair hearing as to what property owners are entitled to. Government agencies will retain their right to make their case as well. It’s about fairness! As Delegate Armstrong has said, 'The worst thing the government can do is take your life; the second worst thing it can do is take your property."

If you who think the 2007 law solved all eminent domain problems, a case in Roanoke from two years ago is still in the news (see From On High), where the Burkholder family is losing its small business to the city who wants its land, even though it has no plans for it! So, click here to contact members of the Senate Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee and ask them to vote for HB 652 in sub-committee this Thursday afternoon.

Spending Transparency: Close To Two Major Victories, Keep Contacting Lawmakers

Spending transparency is one of our priority issues this session and the bills involved (SB 936 and HB 2285) have had a long and winding path thus far (as do most major reform efforts). Just as predicted, their paths are somewhat similar to eminent domain reform bills in 2007, with many twists and turns and near-death experiences. Although each committee vote has been non-controversial, the behind the scenes efforts have been exhausting to get it to that point, with great credit going to the two patrons — Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), respectively, and their co-patrons, particularly Senator Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax) and Delegate Joe Bouchard (D-83, Virginia Beach). There has been tweaking of the bills to avoid the inexcusably outrageous and bogus fiscal impact statements which would have made the bills cost prohibitive to implement, especially in these tight budgetary times. (Fiscal impact statements once served a good purpose — cautionary breaks for lawmakers on new programs or government administrative expenses. Now they are used as excuses to stop much needed reforms.)

Each bill has gone through numerous committee hearings, amendments and substitutes, been reported and refered to money committees and the House version even was sent to a Senate committee the Senate version had no part of (see here). (As it turned out, HB 2285 was sent to the Rules Committeebecause the Auditor of Public Accounts comes under legislative directive, or some such governmentese, but still begs the question why SB 936 didn't go that route.)

All that said, we are closing in on major victories, but it's not time to let down our collective guard. A final push is needed from concerned citizens who believe the government has a serious obligation to shine the light on where our tax dollars are spent. 

SB 936 unanimously passed the House Science and Technology Committee only to have another obstacle thrown in its path — a trip to House Appropriations tomorrow. Committee members Bob Marshall (R-13, Prince William) and John Cosgrove (R-78, Chesapeake) tried to avoid the referral by asking for a vote to report straight to the House floor.

However, things look positive. Committee Chairman Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg) told committee members the bill had to be referred to Appropriations to be vetted for costs, but that she would inform Appropriations Chairman Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford) there are no costs associated with this bill. Appropriations meets tomorrow afternoon.

Indeed, Auditor of Public Accounts Walter J. Kucharski and Joe Damico, deputy director of the Department of General Services, both testified that the bill, offered in its third form, would have no fiscal impact on the state budget. Amazingly, the Department of Planning and Budget attached a fiscal impact statement to the bill claiming its original and subsequent amended versions would cost state government between $1.5-$3 million in new equipment and software, man-hours, and more employees. One small problem: no one asked the departments involved (read this about impact statements).

Earlier in the week, HB 2285 emerged with unanimous approval in the Senate Rules Sub-Committee on Studies and now is in the full Rules Committee which meets at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. 

Spending transparency is an important issue (read here) for many reasons: good government, accountability, taxpayer protection and the like (read here). It also will give us a clearer window into how often, how much and for what reasons nefarious profit making groups such as Planned Parenthood get our tax money! We are very close to victory on a major priority this session. Let's not take it for granted.

Contact Rules Committee members here (HB 2285) and Appropriations Committee members here (SB 936).