Proposed eminent domain amendment on Virginia ballot
Voters in Virginia will vote concerning eminent domain, which allows government to take control of some private property
On Election Day, Virginia voters will see a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution on the ballot that would define more narrowly the way government bodies can employ eminent domain to seize private land.
Eminent domain is the legal principle that allows the government to assume control of private property under certain conditions after financially compensating the original owners.
The amendment would permit the use of eminent domain only if the private property acquired is for public use, not for private gain or tax revenue purposes, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said. It would also require the government to compensate private owners for lost access and profits.
In addition, the amendment is designed to protect private property owners, said Virginia Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle County.
The proposal is a reaction to a 2005 United States Supreme Court case ruling that expanded conditions to allow government authorities to seize private property to generate tax revenue or foster economic development and job creation.
Supporters of the amendment say the power of eminent domain has been abused in recent years and is particularly harmful to minorities, the elderly and the poor, but recent attempts would restrict public authorities from abusing their power.
“For decades in Virginia we have had an imbalance between individual property owners and condemning authorities — over time that side of the equation has gotten stronger and property owners are victimized,” Cuccinelli said.
But opponents of the amendment maintain wording in the legislation could end up costing taxpayers down the road.
The Virginia Municipal League has not taken an official stance on the proposed change but has worked to see the amendment worded differently, believing it could have “unintended consequences,” said Mark Flynn, the league’s director of legal services.
“The amendment is unnecessary and will harm Virginia’s citizens by severely limiting the ability of local governments and the state to carry out projects that help improve life for the commonwealth’s population, due to the amendment’s language on lost access, lost profits and the loss of eminent domain where economic development, increasing jobs and increasing taxes are involved,” according to the Municipal League’s policy statement on the issue.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said he was concerned the amendment’s just compensation requirement would be abused and ultimately require the government to pay private owners more than their land is worth.
Getting the amendment to the polls has been a tedious process, said Bell, who co-wrote the amendment.
“It took five years to get it through the General Assembly,” Bell said. “The polls look good — this is our best chance to get it passed.”