Saturday, January 12, 2008

2007: Virginia Reforms Eminent Domain

Charlottesville, Virginia—On April 4, Governor Timothy Kaine signed into law eminent domain reforms addressing decades-old grievances. Chief among them, housing authorities can no longer condemn non-blighted houses and businesses even if they lie within a redevelopment zone. While the reforms prohibit certain abuses, they do not outline penalties.

In 2006 the General Assembly combined numerous proposals into two competing bills—one would make it easier, the other more difficult, for the government to seize your property. There was no consensus on a particular bill. So the legislators decided to wait another year.

The reform movement was triggered by the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision of June 23, 2005, that said (public use)=(private use)+(public purpose). But the reforms address known abuses in Virginia.

Until the end of 2006, most legislators continued to downplay the eminent domain problem because small newspapers were not reporting on the abuses. On Dec. 14 Delegate David Toscano (57th) and Senator Creigh Deeds (25th) said on WINA that eminent domain was not a problem in Virginia ("Deeds and Toscano: Eminent Domain not a problem in Va.", Dec. 15, 2006). But a few months later, they both voted for the substantial reforms.

What changed their minds? We may never know.

Delegate Rob Bell (58th) sponsored the main bill. In 2003 Bell sent Blair Hawkins an email asking what Hawkins would focus on in his campaign against Mitch Van Yahres (57th). Hawkins responded that it would have to be eminent domain. Bell never spoke to Hawkins again. Hawkins failed to receive the Republican nomination. Van Yahres was unopposed and announced his retirement two years later on Hawkins birthday March 5 in Hawkins' neighborhood demolished while Van Yahres was on City Council.

On Jan. 13 Nancy McCord of Virginia Property Rights Coalition asked me if I knew Rob Bell. I told her the 2003 story. But I explained that some people have grown on this issue during my 7-year campaign. I’ve always known someone else would have to come along and say what I’ve been saying for the change to happen.

The 2007 reforms consist of three bills.

House Bill 2954 sponsored by Rob Bell.
Senate Bill 781 sponsored by Ken Cuccinelli (37th).
Senate Bill 1296 sponsored by Tommy Norment (3rd).

Here's how Virginia Property Rights Coalition has described the reforms.

1. Prohibits taking private property if primary purpose is private benefit, increase in tax base or revenue or employment.

2. Limits use of eminent domain to traditional public uses such as schools, roads, parks, utilities.

3. Restricts the amount of land taken to no more than is necessary for the public use.

4. Allows owners to defend themsleves in cases where the stated public use is a contrived justification for an improper/illegitimate purpose.

5. Provides that when property is taken the public interest must "dominate" private gain.

6. Tightens the definition of blight.

7. Prohibits taking non-blighted property just because the property is located in a blighted area.

8. Reaffirms the right to property is a fundamental right.

Some people don't think the reforms go far enough. They want a state Constitutional amendment to prevent the 2007 statutes from being watered down in future sessions.

A search of Richmond Sunlight for eminent domain in 2008 returns 19 bills. Every year there is tweaking of the eminent domain laws. Because they’re seldom enforced, these laws are more like guidelines anyway.

John and Nancy McCord speak in Charlottesville Jan. 13, 2007. Virginia Property Rights Coalition

Letter to Mayor Daugherty to investigate urban renewal, June 5, 2000.

PROPERT STREET for Sally Hemings and Laura Dowell, June 5, 2000.

Hawkins Campaign for House of Delegates 2003. Timeline and documents.

UVa alumnus talks about eminent domain, Feb. 15, 2005, a week before oral arguments before Supreme Court in Kelo case. (Republished in “Arin Sime for Va. Senate”, Oct. 23, 2007)

The only opposition to Charlottesville’s eminent domain amendment, Jan. 8, 2006.

Senate removes eminent domain from amendment, Jan. 18, 2006.

Eminent domain reform marches on: 36 reforms in 6 years, 15 pending, Jan. 30, 2006.

Response to David Toscano and Tammy Londoree on my endorsment of Rob Schilling published on George Loper's blog, Apr. 30, 2006. Toscano says he introduced city charter amendment, it passed, he amended it, and it passed again. The Daily Progress reports a Senate committee made the changes, not the House of Delegates.

Eminent domain stars reveal legislative agenda, June 29, 2006.

Deeds and Toscano: Eminent domain not a problem in Va., Dec. 14, 2006.

2006 Review: Another year of inconvenient truths ahead, Jan. 8, 2007.

Eminent domain topic at Republican Breakfast, Jan. 15, 2007.

Apology for slavery insincere, Jan. 20, 2007. Analogy why city has not apologized for urban renewal.

Momentum building for eminent domain reform in Va., Feb. 5, 2007.

Taking of prosperity: economics of eminent domain, Feb. 5, 2007.

Virginia 36th state to reform eminent domain, Apr. 8, 2007.

Democrats nominate Huja, Edwards, Brown: Challengers Seaman, McKeever to remain active, June 3, 2007. McKeever, a real estate attorney, was the only candidate to oppose neighborhood clearance and received the least votes. The others oppose only the clearance of Vinegar Hill.

Columbia U. psychiatrist talks urban renewal at UVA, Oct. 3, 2007.

Move to weaken eminent domain reforms, October 29, 2007.

Voters approve Council, School Board junket to Italy, Nov. 7, 2007. Election results. All 5 city councilors support unlimited eminent domain—limited only by what officials can dream up.


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