Proposed eminent domain amendment protects ‘the little guy’

November 6th is fast approaching, and many people are still not aware of the property rights constitutional amendment and how its passage (or lack thereof) will affect them. Below is another example of eminent domain abuse in Virginia that appeaered in last week’s edition of News Leads, a press release of the top stories in Virginia agriculture sent to media across the state by Farm Bureau’s Communications department.

If the amendment doesn’t pass, Snively’s story could happen again to someone else. Please remember to Vote Yes on Question 1 on Nov. 6, and please encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Joel Snively served 22 years as a Marine in posts around the world. Ironically, he said, one of his toughest battles was defending his private property rights at home.

Five years ago Snively was approached to allow a utility easement on Stafford County land zoned for agricultural use.

“In my case they offered me a certain amount of money for an easement for an underground power line. They almost acted like they were renting the property from me for the purpose of putting a line in,” he said.

But when he didn’t agree to the request, a local court moved immediately to condemn the land through eminent domain.

“My land was condemned by a judge with no hearing. I never even got my day in court before the condemnation. They rammed the case through and then decided to sort out who got what,” Snively said. “They said I could farm this land, but they told me I couldn’t raise certain crops. My point is now I can’t use my land as I see fit. … In reality they own it except in title. They can restrict my movement on it, they can put up a barrier saying you can’t come onto the property, but under current law I still have the tax burden on it.”

After four years of legal wrangling Snively reached a settlement and has relocated to Augusta County to pursue his dream of starting a small farm operation. But he said his case is one of many that prove Virginia’s constitution needs to be amended.

“It’s not what they take that’s so valuable as what they take from your future,” Snively said. “They limit what you can do with the property in the future. … This amendment will help balance the scales when the little guy goes up against a big utility or government body in an eminent domain dispute.”

From the Field: Farm Bureau staff and volunteers cover a lot of ground on eminent domain campaign

From the Field is a bi-monthly column written by Mark Campbell, Farm Bureau Field Services Director for the Central District. He writes about Farm Bureau member benefits and County Farm Bureau activities.

Virginia Farm Bureau’s campaign in support of a constitutional amendment on eminent domain is in full swing mode. Farm Bureau staff and volunteers have been using every opportunity available to inform members, the agriculture community, and general public about the eminent domain constitutional amendment and the importance of voting yes on question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot. Things really picked up the first of August. The volunteers are pumped up about promoting this.

The Field Services and Governmental Relations staff have been promoting all of the available promotional and educational tools available to county Farm Bureaus, and the county Farm Bureaus have acted quickly in ordering supplies. There are a lot of events happening around the state now, and even more will be taking place going into the fall season. Farm Bureau is utilizing all of these venues to get the message out to the public.

Just to give you an idea of how many people we have reached from August 1-20; I surveyed our Field Staff about events and meetings were the campaign has been presented. The message has reached approximately 5,405 people at events such as county Farm Bureau annual meetings, county fairs, Virginia Ag Expo, field days, and meetings with county supervisors. This is only in three weeks. The message will reach even more people as we approach Election Day.

We have had a clear and concise message that is resonating with people. I am sure that those that have heard about the campaign will tell their friends and neighbors to support it with a Yes vote. The campaign signs arrived in county Farm Bureau offices this month. In some counties, signs have already been distributed to members.

So plan to hear and see more about the eminent domain constitutional amendment, and don’t be shy about spreading the message to your circle of friends and family. Also, don’t hesitate to ask them to join Farm Bureau, an organization that has done a tremendous amount on protecting private property rights.

Until next time,

Mark

‘Vote Yes’ Campaign Signs Arriving Soon to a County Farm Bureau Office Near You

Virgina Farm Bureau Board of Directors
Thomas Graves

Photo by Kathy Dixon

The Virginia Farm Bureau Governmental Relations Department has been busy gearing up for the “Vote Yes on Question 1” property rights campaign this fall. The campaign is to educate voters about the property rights constitutional amendment which will appear as question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

One of the tools we will be using is campaign signs. Your county Farm Bureau has been sent a sample “Vote Yes on Question 1″ 14″x22” campaign sign. They will be ordering more for distribution to Farm Bureau members in the next few weeks.

Please keep in mind that although the campaign signs are weather resistant, they are only built to last two or three months out in the elements at best. So if you are interested in hosting a sign or several signs on your property, please think about posting them around September to hit voters hard before Nov. 6.

To amend the Constitution of Virginia, a state senator and/or delegate must introduce a bill, in the form of a resolution, with the wording of the amendment. If the bill is passed by one house, it goes to the other house and goes through the same process. The bill must pass by a majority.

The bill must go through the same process the following year and be approved in exactly the same form. We achieved this last winter in the Virginia General Assembly. After this process, the amendment goes on the November ballot, where it must be approved by a majority of voters.

If the property rights constitutional amendment passes, it will make sure:

• Private property may be only taken for a true “public use,” and not taken and then given to another private landowner;

• In the unfortunate circumstances where your property is taken, you will be correctly paid for the loss of value to your property; and,

• No more of your property may be taken than that which is absolutely necessary.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Amendment would address farmers’ lost access and profits

This story appeared in the March 1 edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state:

Farmers whose land is taken using eminent domain should be able to access what’s left of their property and should be compensated for profits lost when a condemning authority has decided to take their land.

That’s one premise of a proposed amendment to Virginia’s constitution that was passed by this year’s General Assembly and will be on the ballot for voters in November.

As part of the language in the resolution, the state legislature has been asked to define lost profits and lost access.

“We feel that defining these terms is a critical step in moving the constitutional amendment forward,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Anyone can have their property taken for eminent domain, and if they can’t access their (remaining) property or don’t get compensated for lost profits, that’s not fair.”

Earlier this winter, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli cited an example of a dairy farmer whose land was taken by the Virginia Department of Transportation to build a road. VDOT deposited a sum amounting to 20 percent of the value of the farm buildings on that land into an account, but it took two years for the farm owner to get the money.

Without a barn and milking parlor or money to build new ones, the farm family was forced to sell its cows.

“This quick-take demolished their business,” Cuccinelli said.

The family had to wait two years before receiving any compensation, and they received no money for the business lost during those two years.

“With other parts of the state code, the law allows Virginians to seek and be compensated for lost profits, so why is it fair to exclude those affected by eminent domain?” Davis asked.

HJ3 and SJ3, the House and Senate versions of the constitutional amendment, tighten the definition of public use and require just compensation for owners whose property has been taken using eminent domain. Companion legislation, HB1035 sponsored by Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, and SB437 from Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, defines lost profits and lost access to property as required by the amendment.

“The financial penalty incurred by farmers during eminent domain takings is real and provable,” Davis said. “With the enactment of this legislation, farmers will at least have the opportunity to be justly compensated in court. I’m thankful that HB1035 and SB437 have seen bipartisan support and also that we have reached a compromise on language between many of the condemning authorities and property rights advocates.”