Eminent Domain Amendment on Virginia Ballot - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Eminent Domain Amendment on Virginia Ballot

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A fight over property rights is on the Virginia ballot this Election Day.  You'll be asked to vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that changes the way public bodies can seize private land under eminent domain.

The amendment seeks to narrowly define when the government can use eminent domain to seize private property.  But some legislators are concerned an amendment is going too far, and could end up costing taxpayers down the road.

58th District Delegate Rob Bell (R) has been fighting for the amendment for years.  "It says the government can't take your property and give it to somebody else," he said.

It narrows the definition of when governments can use eminent domain to seize private property.  "This is a fundamental right," Bell said.  "A homeowner, a landowner, a property owner needs to be safe in their home."

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2005, governments can seize private property for private purposes, like tax revenue and economic development.  The Virginia General Assembly then passed a statute in 2007 to restrict the use of eminent domain for solely public purposes.

"But if it's not in the constitution, a subsequent legislature can always come in and change the law. And we want to take that temptation away," said Bell.

Among the supporters is the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.  "We believe it's better, if private interests purchase private interests and don't rely on the government as a hammer," Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce President Timothy Hulbert. 

But not everyone is in favor.  57th District Delegate David Toscano (D) said, "There are a lot of us who are a little concerned."

The amendment includes new wording that would require governments to compensate homeowners for any "lost profits."

"What it's going to do is create a lot of opportunity for lawyers to use the court system to try to extract more money from the commonwealth," Toscano said. 

Toscano believes that could hurt taxpayers down the road, but Bell says everyone is entitled to a fair price for their property.

"If you take someone's property for some public use like a road, you have to pay them what it's worth," Bell said.  "That'll make sure the landowner gets full value."

Toscano doesn't doubt the amendment will pass, but the question he says is by how much?  There is strong bipartisan support for this amendment.  It passed the House of Delegates by a significant margin this year and last year, and also received support in the state Senate. 

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