A proposed constitutional amendment that would help protect private property rights cleared its next-to-last hurdle when it was passed by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Now it awaits approval by Virginia voters in November.
The Senate version of the bill, SJ 3, passed 23-17, and HJ 3, the House version, was approved 80-18 late Monday.
“We can’t begin to say how pleased we are that this bill has passed the House and Senate for the second year in a row,” said Trey Davis, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of governmental relations. “We are looking forward to putting this before the state’s voters in November.”
Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm advocacy organization, has been supporting a constitutional amendment for eminent domain reform for the past several years.
For a constitutional amendment to be enacted, it must pass in the General Assembly two years in a row with the exact same wording before it goes before voters in a general election.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, tightens the definition of public use and requires just compensation for owners whose property has been taken using eminent domain.
“It hasn’t been easy getting to this point, and I appreciate the bipartisan support that this constitutional amendment has seen,” Davis said. “We are confident that Virginians will recognize this as a way to protect all citizens’ private property rights from unfair takings under the guise of eminent domain.”
The amendment has three key parts: Public entities can take private property for public use only; the entities cannot take more land than is necessary for that public use; and landowners must be justly compensated. It has been supported by the state attorney general’s office, as well as by a coalition of agriculture, forestry and business groups.
The state constitution currently recognizes that some takings are necessary for public use. However, Davis said, public use needs to be narrowly defined and just compensation ensured.
In last year’s General Assembly, Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, introduced the bill that would amend the Virginia Constitution to mirror 2007 statutory changes that strictly defined public use.
Those changes were made as a result of the 2005 Kelo et al v. City of New London, Conn., et al decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that private land justifiably can be transferred to another private party for economic development purposes.