Virginia Farm Bureau Federation members and other property rights advocacy groups have posted signs in their yards and around the state urging Virginians to vote yes on Question 1.
That’s because they are supporting an amendment to Virginia’s constitution to further protect individuals’ private property rights. The passage of Question 1 at the polls on Nov. 6 will protect everyone—farmers, homeowners, business and any privately-owned land—from eminent domain abuse.
“This amendment to the constitution in no way prohibits localities, states or utilities from using eminent domain for building roads, schools or other legitimate public uses. It will ensure that if land is taken for a legitimate public use, the property owner will receive fair compensation,” said Trey Davis, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations. “Under no circumstances can private property be taken for private revenue, increasing the amount of tax revenue or under the guise of economic development.”
The constitutional amendment ensures that no more private property may be taken than is necessary to achieve the stated public use. And it requires the condemner to prove that the use is public. Condemning entities, such as highway departments or utility companies, would not be able to exercise eminent domain if the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, tax revenue or economic development, Davis said. The amendment also guarantees that fair compensation is given to the property owner.
“I’ve talked to quite a few people and most everybody believes that we need this constitutional amendment to keep the government from making decisions about our private property,” said Steve Saufley, a Rockingham County beef cattleman and VFBF board member. “If private property is taken correctly using eminent domain, that property owner deserves just compensation.”
Eminent domain reform began when the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that it was O.K. for the town of New London, CT, to take the homes of urban property owners for private development. Until then, eminent domain was intended for condemning private property only for public use such as roads and schools. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted against the ruling, said that the decision transferred property from “those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”
In 2007, VFBF helped pass a law that strictly defined public use. However, without its protection in the constitution, state and local governments can interpret public use as they see fit. VFBF members believe that private property owners deserve constitutional protection, Davis said.
“And now it’s up to the voters to make that happen,” Davis said.