Governor Signs Property Rights Bills; Coalition Officially Launches Campaign

Virginia landowners will be confident that their private property cannot be taken and given to another private owner under eminent domain if the commonwealth’s voters approve Question 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Bipartisan legislation was signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell yesterday to place a proposed constitutional amendment on this fall’s ballot to protect the private property rights of Virginia’s farmers, small businesses and individuals. The amendment specifies that eminent domain cannot be used unless it is for a true public use and further ensures just compensation for the landowner, including the opportunity for lost access and lost profits to be considered as part of that compensation. The language in the amendment also clarifies what is a true “public use” and specifies that no more land than is necessary can be taken.

The “Private Property Rights” amendment and companion legislation was supported by Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli and patroned by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg; Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle; and Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth.

At the July 16 bill signing, a coalition of private property rights advocates announced the launch of a campaign encouraging Virginians to “Vote Yes for Private Property Rights.”

“Our members are excited about the opportunity that this constitutional amendment will provide. No longer will our farms, homes or businesses be taken and given to another private property owner under Kelo-type eminent domain abuses,” said Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Martha Moore and Trey Davis, Farm Bureau Governmental Relations staff, were also in attendance.

“Our members are grateful to Gov. McDonnell, Attorney Gen. Cuccinelli and the General Assembly for understanding that, while sometimes the government may want someone’s property for a well-agreed public use, taking someone’s home, farm or business so someone else can develop the land is just plain wrong,” said Nicole Riley, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “This amendment ensures that, if property is taken for a legitimate public use, private property owners will be justly compensated.”

Elected officials “have given Virginians the opportunity to approve this historical measure,” added Katie K. Frazier, president of the Virginia Agribusiness Council. “Our job now is to educate the public on what this constitutional amendment does and why it is important to them. We’ll be doing so through grassroots activism and communication.”

The “Vote Yes for Private Property Rights” campaign is supported by Farm Bureau, the NFIB, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Forestry Association, the Virginia Poultry Federation, Americans for Prosperity, the Family Foundation of Virginia and other advocacy groups. The coalition will be posting campaign signs, distributing literature and organizing other activities through the fall.

Land Preservation Opportunity for County Farm Bureaus

As part of Governor McDonnell’s new project to increase the amount of working farm and forestland in Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau has been working with interested parties on the development of the new “Working Lands Variant” Conservation Easement from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

Below is a letter from Matt Lohr presenting an opportunity and resources for those of you that may have interest within your county membership to hear more about an option for preserving your land.

Please contact Trey Davis, Assistant Director of Governmental Relations, at (804) 290-1017 or if you have further questions with the information contained in the letter.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Farm Bureau ‘concerned’ about court ruling on health care legislation

This story will appear in the July 5th edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling June 28 upholding President Obama’s health care legislation, which includes a requirement that all people have health insurance. That same day the nation’s largest agricultural organization voiced its apprehension.

“Farmers, ranchers and rural residents need affordable and accessible health care. We remain concerned that mandating individuals and businesses to buy insurance will impose an expense that creates economic hardship, particularly for self-employed individuals and small businesses,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Stallman noted that Farm Bureau historically has supported market-based reforms as the best way to control costs and increase options for individuals and businesses that purchase health insurance. “The plan reviewed by the Supreme Court would impose a new financial burden on our members,” he said. “As the legal and political interpretation of this ruling is further analyzed and debated in the weeks and moths ahead, it is important to remember that access to affordable health care eludes many American families across the country.”

Moving forward, Stallman said, “Farm Bureau will encourage Congress and the president to work together to address concerns on this issue, which affects millions of small business owners and individuals throughout rural America.”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has in recent years monitored developments in federal health care legislation.

“While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) does have provisions that will benefit rural Virginians, such as increased funding for rural hospitals, Virginia Farm Bureau has remained opposed to the legislation. It does not get to the root of the health care problem for our producer members, which is to place price controls on skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and putting more doctors into rural areas,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of Governmental Relations. “We look forward to engaging our legislative representation here in the General Assembly to ensure that Virginia’s farmers’ health care needs are addressed in the implementation of the PPACA.”

Property Rights Amendment Passes Senate

Good afternoon. My name is Trey Davis, and I have been fortunate enough to work this year and last on a constitutional amendment to protect your property rights in Virginia’s constitution. With bipartisan support from the 2011 and 2012 Sessions of the General Assembly, we are closer to achieving this goal than ever.

Thanks to your hard work this fall with the Stand Our Ground: Property Rights postcard campaign, we achieved a major victory yesterday, getting the property rights constitutional amendment through the Senate on a 23-17 vote and through the House of Delegates on a vote of 80-18. SB437 (Obenshain) and HB1035 (Joannou), the companion legislation to define lost profits and lost access in regards to eminent domain takings, have passed their respective houses as well.

Here are a few reactions from our Attorney General and Senator Mark Obenshain, the chief patron on the Senate side:

From Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:

“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,” Cuccinelli said in a prepared statement. “I have fought every year since the 2005 Kelo decision [by the Supreme Court] 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.”

From Sen. Mark Obenshain:

“The passage of this is a great victory for property owners in Virginia.  This has been a long and arduous path, but this fall – Good Lord willing – the voters of Virginia will be given a chance to vote on adding these protections to the Constitution, where they belong.  Respect for private property is a foundational principle of free government,” said Obenshain. “The Property Rights Amendment will secure property rights against the whims of state and local governments, ensuring that private property can only be taken for legitimate public uses – not economic development or the pet projects of government officials.” 

Things are looking good for getting the amendment on the ballot in November, but the battle isn’t over yet. Thanks so much for all the hard work you have already done–collecting postcards, sending emails, making phone calls and visitng your legislators on this issue. This constitutional amendment would not have gotten through without the support of Virginia’s farmers and your activism within Virginia Farm Bureau.

Now the real work begins. We need to educate Virginians about property rights and eminent domain abuse, so they are well-informed when they visit the polls in November. We will be asking for your help in the next few months to help us accomplish this.

Again, thanks for all that you do, and keep reading the blog as well as your Capitol Connections Action Alerts for updates on this issue and other critical Farm Bureau issues.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Eminent domain constitutional amendment is ‘finally in sight’

This story appeared in the Jan. 19 edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state:

A Virginia constitutional amendment to protect private property rights has progressed further than ever before in the legislative approval process.

HJ3 and SJ3, the state House of Delegates and Senate versions of the bill, tighten the definition of public use and require just compensation for owners of property taken for eminent domain. The bills passed in last year’s General Assembly.

“We have never gotten past that first step, but last year we did,” said Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville, the chief patron of HJ3. “This year we are finally in sight of our goal.”

For a constitutional amendment to be enacted, it must pass in the General Assembly two years in a row with the exact same wording. If it passes in 2012, as it did in 2011, it will be placed on the ballot this November and would have to be approved by a majority of Virginia voters.

The constitutional amendment has three key parts: Public entities can take private property for public use only; the entities cannot take more land than is necessary for that public use; and landowners must receive just compensation.

“Farmers have a particular interest, because they own a lot of land and they are especially vulnerable,” Bell said. “Farmers in my area have been very supportive of the constitutional amendment.”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farm organization, has been calling for a constitutional amendment for the past several years. Farm Bureau members believe that land ownership is a fundamental right deserving of constitutional protection.

Virginia’s constitution recognizes that some ‘takings’ are necessary for public use; however, public use should be narrowly defined, and just compensation should be provided to an individual whose property is taken, said Trey Davis, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations.

“Because farmers’ assets are mostly land-based, they feel constantly under threat from eminent domain,” Davis said. “The only way to truly protect them is to have a constitutional amendment that ensures farmland cannot be taken and given to another private owner.”

In July, Farm Bureau launched a postcard campaign urging state legislators to back the constitutional amendment. The organization will deliver more than 13,000 postcards signed by its members during this year’s General Assembly.

Last winter, Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, introduced the bill that would amend the state constitution to mirror 2007 statutory changes to the state’s eminent domain law that strictly define public use.

Those changes were made as a result of the 2005 Kelo et al v. City of New London, Conn., et al decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that private land can be justifiably transferred to another private party for economic development purposes.

“That was never the intent of eminent domain,” Bell said.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also have championed efforts to change state law to restrict when private land can be taken for public use.

“Farmers and homeowners deserve to know that their properties cannot be taken at the behest of a private developer, and that any legitimate takings receive just compensation,” Obenshain said. “As any farmer knows, when you cut across a field or bisect a farming operation, the losses exceed the value of the land that was taken—and the compensation given should reflect that. Farmers face enough challenges; they shouldn’t have to battle a government that has other ideas for the land.”