Frequently Asked Questions
1. What exactly is eminent domain?
Eminent domain is the taking of private property for public use.
2. Where does Virginia Farm Bureau stand on the state’s eminent domain laws?
Virginia Farm Bureau has taken a keen interest in eminent domain law, because farmers’ livelihoods are tied to their land. We believe that the eminent domain laws in Virginia should include the following:
3. What are the steps to amending Virginia’s constitution?
- Where at all possible, public lands or existing corridors should be used to avoid the taking of private property in order to minimize the disruption to home, family and business.
- Compensation should be based on fair market value of property, taking into account factors that decrease fair market value of residual property, including but not limited to magnetic fields, visual blight, loss of revenue due to decreased crop yields, and unharvestable or damaged commodities.
- Valuable, productive farmland should be protected when less-productive land is available.
- Private property is not for public use if it is taken for transfer to another private entity for purposes of economic development or a higher tax base.
- Virginia needs to close loopholes in its eminent domain laws that are a result of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo et al. v. City of New London, Conn, et al.
To amend Virginia’s constitution, the General Assembly must pass an amendment in two consecutive years with the exact same wording. The first hurdle was crossed by the 2011 General Assembly with the passage of HJR 693.
If this wording is passed again by the 2012 General Assembly, Virginia’s voters would get the opportunity to make the final decision on it in November 2012.
Since 2000 the state constitution has been amended to secure the right of people to hunt and fish; to ensure that lottery proceeds are spent on public education; and to define the specific union that the state recognizes as a marriage; among other reasons.
4. What difference would the proposed amendment make?
This proposed amendment is intended to prevent eminent domain abuse. It would tighten up the state’s definition of "public use" with regard to when the government can take someone’s property. It would ensure that private property cannot be taken and given to another private entity to increase the tax base or tax revenue, that property cannot be taken without just compensation to the owner, and that no more property than necessary is taken.
5. What has resulted from the 2005 Kelo decision?
In Kelo et al. v. City of New London, Conn., et al., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the governmental taking of property from a private owner to give to another is acceptable if the state’s laws allow economic development as permissible "public use" under the Fifth Amendment.
The decision unleashed a wave of eminent domain takings; in the first year after Kelo, more than 5,700 properties nationwide were threatened by or taken with eminent domain for private development, according to the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm that represented Susette Kelo and other homeowners involved in her case.
Since then, more than 40 states have passed laws increasing protections against eminent domain takings.