Virginia Senate Moves Forward on Eminent Domain Reform
This week, the Virginia Senate came one step closer to enacting true reform that would end eminent domain abuse in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In a 35-5 vote, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would redefine and limit the public uses for which private property may be confiscated by the government. Eminent domain is still allowed under this legislation for traditional public uses, such as schools and transportation projects for the state of Virginia, but the state would be required to fully compensate the owner. Eminent domain for the purpose of private economic development would be prohibited under the amendment.
In a Richmond Times Dispatch op-ed, A. Barton Hinkle made the case for why reform is needed in Virginia by offering a few cases of abuse that involved:
•Roanoke seizing a building that belonged to the owners of a mom-and-pop flooring company so it could turn the property over to Carilion, a billion-dollar health-care corporation.
•Norfolk trying to seize the property of Central Radio so it could hand the land over to Old Dominion University.
•VDOT trying to cheat a small day-care owner out of just compensation — and spending more on lawyers to fight the case than it would have shelled out by paying her original asking price.
The 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision by the Supreme Court provided local governments the unrestricted opportunity to take homes and small businesses for private development. Following this court decision, legislation in both Congress and state capitals around the country has been debated on what the proper role of government is with regard to the use of eminent domain.
This is just the beginning of the process to enact reform in Virginia. For an amendment to be added to the constitution, the amendment must pass the General Assembly twice with an election in between and then go to a vote of the people through the referendum process.