private property rights

Vote For Question 1! New Ad, Editorials In Favor Of Property Rights Amendment!

On November 6, Virginians have a lot of important decisions to make at the ballot box. There are choices for President, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In some cities, there will be choices for mayor, city council and school board. But there is another important decision to make that does not involve a candidate: Virginians will have an opportunity to amend the Virginia Constitution to protect private property rights. Protecting private property rights has become an urgent and priority issue for The Family Foundation and other concerned organizations since 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court incredibly ruled in Kelo v. New London, Conn. that the U.S. Constitution did not protect one's private property rights in the case of a taking by a locality. (Funny, other protections, such as free speech, seem to trump state and local laws.)

Since then, state after state has enacted constitutional protections. Virginia, meanwhile, dragged its feet for seven years as the General Assembly, session after session, found ways to deny and delay its citizens' the opportunity to speak on this vital issue — and by the trick of a parliamentary maneuver came within a vote of killing it again this year.

Property rights are vital because without the guarantee of private property, there is no check on government's ability to grow in size or power. Without private property, you have nowhere from which to speak, worship or work. Without it, government is unchecked in its ability to do anything it wants, including taking property only after you have increased the value of it, as has happened time after time across Virginia.

The amendment specifically prohibits what happened in Connecticut — perhaps the most blatant abuse of governmental power in recent years — when New London took private property (in this case homes) and not only did not use it for a public purpose, such as a school or road, but gave the homes to a private company!  New London said the company could do something better with the property and create more tax revenue for the city. It's always about revenue to the government, isn't it?

So, who could be against this amendment? Precisely! Local governments, which use your tax dollars to lobby against your rights. They claim this amendment will prohibit economic development. That's a peculiar argument because securing private property is the best way to promote economic development. What entrepreneur wants to build a business if he or she knows the city or county will decide it can do something better with that land and take it for themselves?

Only local government can think this way because local government bureaucrats think their job is to run their county or city as their own powerful, controlling entity, and not as stewards of your money and rights. This amendment — which among its guarantees provides that government can only take the amount of land it needs when it truly has a public use; and that it must provide just compensation for that land, including for lost access to the property and for lost business profit — will be a necessary brake on that attitude. It will foster true economic growth by guaranteeing property rights as well as limiting government power. It will be another stroke for the liberty intended for us by the Founding Fathers.

We urge a vote for Question 1, to protect our basic liberty and rights to own property and to check the growth and power of government.

We're not alone. The amendment was put on the ballot by a bipartisan vote in the General Assembly. A coalition of organizations, including The Family Foundation, The Virginia Farm Bureau, Americans for Prosperity, The Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Forestry Association, National Federation of Independent Business, and the Virginia Property Rights Coalition all are working hard for its ratification. In addition, two major papers, which typically have different editorial views, recently endorsed Question 1: The Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Click on the image to hear this radio ad by the Virginia Farm Bureau. Then spread the word about Question 1, Virginia's Property Rights Amendment, by sharing this post, logo and radio spot!

There has only been one public poll released on Question 1, and it was done by Public Policy Polling, a Democrat polling firm based in North Carolina. While its results were favorable, it is from September and the local government opposition has been working in high gear ever since. (The Castle Coalition, a national property rights group, has a take on the poll here.)

Perhaps the biggest opponent of the amendment is unawareness. With the presidential and senate campaigns sucking up all the political oxygen this fall, most Virginians are not aware the question is on the ballot. When they find out, they are supportive. So the mission is to get the word out! Above is a radio ad released yesterday by The Farm Bureau. Please share it and this link with as many people as you can by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. After seven years, this is our one and only chance to protect our property rights in Virginia and to further secure our liberty and restrain government growth and power.

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

Glenn Oder: One Of The Good Guys Leaves The House

Tuesday, Virginia and the General Assembly lost one of the good guys of Virginia politics (see The Daily Press). Not because of anything sad, thankfully, but because Delegate Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News) resigned his seat, effective August 31, to accept the position as executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority, the body which will oversee the transition of the historic Peninsula property from the U.S. Army to the state and, possibly, National Park Service. As a landscape architect by trade, he called the opportunity an "architect's dream." Delegate Oder is a true gentleman and a true friend of social conservatives, defending life, marriage and the traditional values we hold dear. Grounded in faith, you know where he stands and his word meant it would get done. His effectiveness might not always have grabbed screaming statewide headlines, but he became an influential member of the House of Delegates and having him as an ally often was the key to getting good legislation passed and bad legislation stopped dead in its tracks.

Lawmakers tend to specialize in certain areas, but Delegate Oder would surprise you with his depth and breadth of knowledge on several fronts — from transportation to housing to predatory lending. As an architect, he understands the value of property and is a staunch defender of private property rights. Not sure who can help on a particular issue? Most likely, he could and do it extraordinarily well. So well, in fact, The Family Foundation named him Legislator of the Year in 2009, primarily for his leadership on passing pay day lending legislation into law, an issue that didn't win supporters many friends from either end of the political spectrum.

Governor Bob McDonnell said this about Delegate Oder:

As we move into the next phase of conversion of Fort Monroe over to the Commonwealth, it is essential that the next head of the Fort Monroe Authority is a proven leader and visionary who is personally vested in its success. Delegate Glenn Oder fills all of these attributes. Glenn is a highly-respected member of the House of Delegates, who has enthusiastically served Newport News since 2002. ... I know he will effectively lead the conversion of Fort Monroe from a military base to an important historic site for people across the Commonwealth and the country to visit and learn about our nation’s history for many years to come.

Now, not only is another one of the good guys gone, the House itself will experience at least one more new face in a cycle of almost unprecedented turnover. Since the 2009 election, there has been about a 22 percent turnover in the House due to retirements, defeat at the polls and resignations for health reasons, to take conflicting jobs or election to other offices. After this November, with several retirements already in the books, that number easily will top 30 percent with inevitable defeats. Who said things never change in Virginia? Coe January, there will be plenty of dog-eared pages in red facebooks lobbyists use to identify General Assembly members and staff.

Meanwhile, the race immediately picks up to replace him, with the GOP choosing an unusual method of candidate selection (see The Daily Press). We wish Delegate Oder the best in his new endeavors and echo the sentiment that Fort Monroe's future is in good hands, but also acknowledge the House will feel a bit empty now. We look forward to that treasure becoming more accessible and enjoyable for all Virginians.

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.

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.

Quotes Of The Day

That's not a typo. We have multiple Quotes of the Day today. One, this morning, occurred in the House Education Sub-committee on Standards of Quality. It was considering a bill from Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico) on childhood obesity that would require additional physical education for students K-8. Pat Lacey, the ever present spokesman for the umbrella Educrat coalition, which can't seem to approve of anything except more taxpayer money for any and all problems, and which makes nothing but excuses and obstacles for why education reforms can't happen, extended the never say yes philosophy even to phys ed reform! When he addressed the committee to say some elementary schools may not have the gyms to accommodate inclement weather, sub-committee chairman Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) said:

At VMI we didn't have that problem!

Later in the morning, in the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-committee on Constitutional Amendments, a government lobbyist for Fairfax County, which used the hard-earned tax' money of its own citizens to lobby against them, testified against Senator Mark Obenshain's (R-26, Harrisonburg) proposed constitutional amendment to protect private property rights. She gave an example regarding the difficulty the amendment would create in taking land for certain municipal projects, which led to this exchange between her and Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), the sub-committee's chairman, who was preparing to lead a party line vote to defeat property rights protection:

Senator Deeds: But that's the part of the bill I like!

Fairfax lobbyist: Okay . . . I'll sit down now. 

Also from that committee: VACO and VML lobbyist Randy Cook — VACO and VML are the lobbying arms of Virginia's counties and cities, respectively, which pay people like him with your hard earned tax money to lobby against your rights — said that a constitutional amendment isn't necessary because they haven't challenged the condemnation powers of the 2007  property rights statute . . . yet. To which Senator Obenshain later replied:

VACO said, 'Stop me before I condemn (property) again.'

Three Quotes of the Day. All humorous. All pointing, however, to something much more serious.

Three Constitutional Amendments To Go On Trial In The Senate

The pace remained settled in Capitol Square today as committees in the two chambers prepare for the grind of hearings next week on bills passed in each other's chamber. We've reported on a number of successes over the first half of session, both in good bills that passed and bad bills killed. Also in the mix are three proposed constitutional amendments we support, all of which passed the House earlier this week and now begin their trials in the Senate. To amend the constitution of Virginia, a proposed amendment must pass the General Assembly in exactly the same form — a comma can't even be changed — in two sessions with an intervening statewide election, and then approved by the voters in a statewide ballot. So it's nearly a three-year process. It's not the easiest thing to do, as we know from the Marriage Amendment.

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 law needs constitutional protection. This session alone has seen two bills 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. This way, we know that our hard-earned tax money is going to where lawmakers say it is going. Then, and only then, if they need more money for transportation, can they in good conscience ask us for a tax increase.   

All three of these commonsense and much needed reforms and protections will be heard in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee (get members' contact info here), perhaps as early as next week. Please contact the committee members to urge them to report these resolutions to the Senate floor.

Eminent Domain Update In Virginia

One of the many legislative victories of which we have been a part during recent years, and one in which we are most proud, is the 2007 eminent domain reform law. Proud for a number of reasons: It righted a grievous wrong and demonstrated that when we stand on principle and work hard, much can be accomplished; we were part of a large coalition that fought the entrenched corporate and bureaucratic interests and proved that good really can come out of the legislative system; and because so many of you faithfully stayed engaged and kept up the pressure on legislators as the story of the legislation took more twists in the tale than the Crooked Road in our Great Southwest. Bills patroned by Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax), Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), Steve Newman (R-23, Forest), Delegates Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville) and Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth), and others helped overturn the effects of the deplorable Kelo vs. New London, Conn. decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which allowed governments to take private property, often family owned homes and businesses, and give it to large corporations. The bills were passed — after much redrafting and debate (one powerful senator said property rights are not in the constitution!) — by overwhelming majorities in both chambers and signed into law, somewhat reluctantly, and with a few slight amendments, by Governor Tim Kaine.

While the law has immensely improved property protections for Virginia families who own homes and family-owned businesses, it still doesn't go far enough as evidenced by "quick takes" of local governing bodies. Nor are its protections fool-proof since a future General Assembly can change the law. Don't think it can happen? Jeremy Hopkins, in a study he authored for the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, documents Virginia's lapse from a leading private property state that cherished and constitutionally protected individual property rights, to one of the weakest in the union prior to the 2007 legislation (click here). (This study was the "Bible" for those of us who worked on this bill in 2007. The state's power over the fruits of you labor will frighten you.) 

Hopkins underscores the foundational importance of private property rights to a democratic society:

Finally, the right to private property undergirds and protects all other rights. It truly is "the guardian of every other right." A cursory review of the Bill of Rights reveals that many of the rights Americans cherish have little significance without the recognition and protection of private property. Not only do many of these rights presume the right to private property, but these rights have little meaning without the right to private property.

For instance, what good is the right to free speech if one has no property from which to speak freely? What good is the right to free speech if the government owns all printing presses and all means of recording, producing, and dispensing speech? What good is the right to assemble and petition the government if one has no property on which to freely assemble and petition? What good is the right to worship freely if one has no property on which to freely worship? What good is the right to worship freely if the state owns the church, employs the clergymen, and prints all religious material?

For an absolute guarantee of secure property rights in Virginia tougher measures are needed and they need to be put into the constitution. Some of the same lawmakers noted above are interested in proposing such an amendment this coming session. It's never too early to encourage your delegates and senators to support such constitutional protections (click here)

To get an update on the status of eminent domain in Virginia — and your rights — read this post and hear this interview with Hopkins from the blog Tertium Quids (click here). Just as with any right, to secure it, we must stay informed and active.