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.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Extension ‘on the rebound,’ farmers told

This story appeared in the June 7th edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state.

The director of Virginia Cooperative Extension said that agency is steadily rebuilding its presence in county offices across Virginia after staffing cuts in recent years.

“I think we’re on the rebound, and good things are starting to happen,” Dr. Edwin Jones, an associate dean at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors at their May 24 meeting.

Farm Bureau has for some time maintained that localities in Virginia need at minimum one agriculture Extension agent, one 4-H agent and one administrative employee. The 2012 Virginia General Assembly appropriated an additional $500,000 for Extension funding for each of the fiscal years in the biennium, for a total of $1 million.

“It was good to hear that vacant Extension positions are being filled,” said VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor. “Having someone local who can address questions ranging from crop and livestock production to business planning to natural resource management is critical to maintaining a sustainable food production system in Virginia.”

Last July, Extension had 179 agents statewide. Jones said 68 agents have been hired since January, though not all are filling new positions. “We’ll be filling about another 10 with recent appropriations from the General Assembly,” he said.

Current staffing is nearly 220 agents—at least 90 agricultural and natural resources agents and at least 90 4-H agents. The others are family and consumer sciences agents.

“I’m thinking if we get around 230, we’ll have a pretty solid base,” Jones said. “I think the pressure will be off many of those who are trying to do more than they can do.”

Through its local offices and specialized agents, Extension brings the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities—Virginia Tech and Virginia State University—to consumers and farmers alike. Extension staff deliver programs through a network of 106 local, county and city offices, six 4-H educational centers and 12 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers.

In some counties, Jones noted, more than one ANR agent is needed, and when working with youth programs, “it’s really hard (for one agent) to do 4-H on a multi-county basis.” The FCS agents tend to serve four or five counties each, working with programs related to nutrition, parenting and family finances, among other topics.

Extension is funded through the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments. It’s a unique system, Jones said. “If we wanted to create it today, it wouldn’t happen.”
 
On average, he said Extension covers two-thirds of an agent’s salary, and the other third is paid by the locality or localities that agent serves. In most instances, he said, counties share the cost of an agent position, “and in some cases the county bears the entire cost of the agent.”

VFB Women’s Committe makes nearly 2,300 legislative contacts

VFBF President Wayne Pryor matched Women’s Committee
Chair Janice Burton’s $500 contribution to Agriculture in the
Classroom on behalf of the Southwest District, winners of the
legislative contacts challenge.

Last fall Virginia Farm Bureau Women’s Committee Chair Janice Burton issued a challenge to each women’s committee district to increase their activity during the 2012 General Assembly.

For the district that made the most legislative contacts, Janice would donate $500 to Agriculture in the Classroom. President Wayne Pryor offered to match Janice’s contribution for a grand total of $1,000.

President Pryor and Janice made good on their promise at the 2012 VFB Women’s Conference held last weekend at the Homestead.

Overall, members of the state women’s committee made 2,292 legislative contacts this session. The Southwest District, which includes Smyth, Lee, Russell, Tazewell, Wythe, Washington, Bland and Wise-Dickinson counties, made the most contacts with 1,361. Great job, ladies! And thanks to Janice and President Pryor for their generous incentives!

We here in Governmental Relations can’t stress enough the importance of contacting your legislators about bills or issues affecting Virginia agriculture, especially at crucial voting times. If you are a producer member and would like to receive our Action Alerts, please email kelly.pruitt@vafb.com.