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General Assembly Passes Property Rights Amendment

The Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have passed identical resolutions for a constitutional amendment that would protect citizens’ private property rights against eminent domain abuses. The constitutional amendment has now passed two sessions of the General Assembly and will head to the November ballot for voters to decide if it will become part of Virginia’s constitution.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a long-time proponent of property rights, helped write the constitutional amendment, which passed its first hurdle of General Assembly approval in 2011.

“It has been seven long years of effort, but with today’s vote, our citizens are one step closer to enshrining in the Constitution of Virginia the protections they deserve from overzealous governments and the developers who use them to take away Virginians’ homes, farms, and small businesses,” said Cuccinelli. “I have fought every year since the 2005 Kelo decision to strengthen property rights in the commonwealth through various bills and three attempts at a constitutional amendment. A property rights amendment to Virginia’s constitution is the ultimate protection Virginians need, and voters will finally have a property rights amendment to vote on in the November ballot.”

The attorney general commended the legislators who sponsored the property rights amendment and led the bipartisan effort to get it passed: Delegates Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth) and Rob B. Bell (R-Albemarle) and Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg).

The constitutional amendment has four reforms:

• private property can only be taken for true public uses, not for enhancing tax revenues, economic development, or private gain;

• the cost of taking property must be borne by the public, not by the individual property owner. Fair and full compensation must be given when property is taken or damaged – this includes loss of business profits and loss of access (which will be defined by the General Assembly through legislation);

• no more property can be taken than is necessary for the project; and

• the burden of proof that the taking is for a true “public use” is on the entity taking the property.

Cuccinelli has promoted the amendment for months in media interviews and in public speeches across the commonwealth.

While a state senator, Cuccinelli successfully sponsored a bill in 2007 to create a law that protected homeowners, farmers, and business owners from having their property taken by government and handed over to private entities for the primary purpose of increasing tax revenues or creating jobs. The attorney general gives this example: “The law stops a city from taking a local family business or a series of homes and turning the land over to a private developer so a shopping mall can be built. If the mall wants to be there, it is the developer’s job to make a convincing offer to the landowners; it is not the city’s job to force people out of their homes or businesses for the developer.”

Although that 2007 law was a major step forward in the protection of private property rights in the commonwealth, because it is a statute, it can be chipped away by future sessions of the General Assembly. Putting property rights protections in Virginia’s constitution ensures that the only way they can be changed is by a vote of the people.

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