When Virginia voters go to the polls Nov. 6, they’ll see the now-familiar names of President Obama and Mitt Romney on the ballot, along with those of U.S. Senate hopefuls George Allen and Tim Kaine.
Just below the list of candidates for office will be Question 1, a referendum on a constitutional amendment regarding private property rights and the power of eminent domain in Virginia. Voters will be asked to choose “Yes” or “No.”
“We don’t want folks to be in too much of a hurry to vote and ignore this important issue,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
“The amendment has some complicated language, but basically it makes sure that your land cannot be taken and given to another private owner for development. It also requires any condemning power to provide fair compensation to property owners for both their land and lost business profits and lost access, and it prohibits taking any more property than is necessary.”
Those are important protections that are not in the current Virginia Constitution, Davis noted.
“In fact, the Virginia Constitution defines the term ‘public use’ in regard to eminent domain takings to be anything the General Assembly wants it to be. While current law prohibits using eminent domain to take property from one landowner for another landowner’s economic benefit, that protection is not in the constitution. And it should be.”
Question 1 is an important vote for all Virginians, not just farmers, said VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor.
“Whether you own 1,000 acres or whether you own one acre with a house on it, you should have the same property rights. You should make sure the government cannot come in and take your land for another private enterprise’s benefit,” Pryor said.
Farm Bureau is part of a coalition of agriculture and property rights groups that have been supporting the proposed amendment for seven years. In addition to strengthening property rights in the Virginia constitution, the amendment would make it more difficult for the General Assembly to change eminent domain laws in the future, Davis said.
“We can’t predict what situations will face our legislators 20 years, 50 years or 100 years from now. But this amendment will assure that whatever the situation, the property rights of all Virginians will be protected.”