RICHMOND—The Virginia General Assembly’s passage of a resolution to amend the state constitution stands to benefit the agricultural community.
HJR 693, patroned by Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, was passed by both the state Senate and House of Delegates in February. Intended to prevent eminent domain abuse, the proposed amendment would tighten up the state’s definition of "public use" with regard to eminent domain. It also would ensure that private property cannot be taken without just compensation to the owner, and that no more property than is necessary is taken.
"This is the first step toward further securing private property rights that famers absolutely need," said Trey Davis, political education and legislative specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. "Our members’ businesses are tied to the land that they own and rent, and while government sometimes must take land for the public good, we believe that should happen for legitimate public use only. Amending the state constitution would help ensure that private land is not taken so it can be given to another private entity."
To amend the state constitution, the General Assembly must pass a resolution in two consecutive years, and the wording of the bill must be exactly the same in the second year as it was in the first. If HJR 693 is passed again by the legislature in 2012, it would go before Virginia voters next November.
In 2007, the General Assembly closed statutory loopholes in state law to clarify and strictly define "public use" as it pertains to eminent domain, providing that property can be taken only when the public interest dominates the private gain. The new law specified that private property cannot be appropriated by government for private financial gain, an increase in tax base or revenues or an increase in employment opportunities.
"While the 2007 statutory revisions can help ensure protection of private property, a court decision could overturn the statute, or a simple majority vote in both bodies of the assembly could reverse it," Davis noted. "This constitutional amendment mirrors the statute while also including language that will ensure farmers are fairly compensated for loss of profits and access resulting from eminent domain takings."
Contact Davis at 804-290-1017