private property

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. 

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!

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!

Three Proposed Constitutional Protections From Government In Senate Committee Tomorrow Afternoon!

Thursday, we let you know about three important proposed constitutional amendments that passed the House and now are on the way to the Senate. You never know about the pace of the General Assembly, especially right after crossover, so guess what? All three of those CAs incredibly important reforms are on the docket tomorrow, at 4:00 p.m. in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.  Please contact members of the committee and voice your support for these constitutional amendments (see committee here), as soon as possible, up to early afternoon tomorrow. Remember, if these proposed amendments fail, it may be another two years before we can even get the process going again.

All three of these proposed amendments to Virginia's Constitution have something in common: Protection. Protection from eminent domain, the government taking your or a friend's private property, whether commercial or residential; protection from profligate government spending — a taxpayers' bill of rights, so to speak (necessary when Virginia's budget has grown 80 percent during the last 10 years); and protection from mismanagement of our dedicated transportation funds.

Here's a summary of the three:

HJ 725, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle) would provide protection from the government's power of eminent domain, and protect the 2007 law protecting private property rights from tampering by future General Assemblies. That law was a reaction to the deplorable U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision, which allowed a local government to take private property and give it to developers. Just as the Marriage Amendment was needed to protect Virginia's marriage statutes, the 2007 private property law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills (HB 1671 and SB 1094) that would have weakened it (we were able to amend them into acceptable bills). So it is obvious this constitutional protection is needed.  

HJ 789, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-68, Richmond) would limit spending to the preceding year's total appropriations plus an amount equal to the percentage increase of inflation plus population growth. It makes exceptions to provide tax relief, deposits to the "Rainy Day Fund" and nonrecurring capital projects. With state spending increasing more than 80 percent over the last 10 years, we need this constitutional protection from the big spenders in Richmond. What family budget has grown that much that fast?   

HJ 620, patroned by Delegate Glen Oder (R-94, Newport News), is another protection against greedy government big spenders. It would put all tax revenues designated by law for transportation in a "lock box" so that they cannot be spent on earmarks, pork or for other areas of the budget, only for the big spenders to claim they need more money for transportation. When campaigning for governor, Governor Tim Kaine said he wouldn't raise taxes until the "Transportation Lock Box" was in place. Of course, he rescinded that promise only a few hour after being sworn in.       

So, please contact the committee members as soon as possible and ask them to vote for these constitutional amendments tomorrow in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.