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.