5/02/2006

These sham eminent-domain bills must be defeated: (Fredricksburg VA) Free-Lance Star, 3/11/06

Opinion

By Steven Anderson

Virginia's Senate and House recently passed legislation reforming the state's horrid eminent-domain laws. Unfortunately, the two competing visions of reform demonstrate the clash between those who want to save their homes and those who want the power to take such properties.

House Bill 94, as amended by Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, provides the exact protections necessary for Virginians to keep what they own. This legislation limits the power of eminent domain to those situations where the government or the public at large will own and occupy the property taken — things like schools and roads — and where it will be used for public-service companies.

Under HB 94, eminent domain could no longer be used to take farms, homes, or businesses for private commercial development, which the public nearly universally despises.

Senate Bill 394, however, contains almost no restrictions. Under that bill, private property could be taken for a big-box store or other private uses. The bill also reinforces the presumption that any government taking is correct, a significant and often insurmountable judicial obstacle to challenging public use.

Worse yet, SB 394 leaves a gaping exception for condemnations under the Housing Authorities Law, which is routinely used to take property under bogus "blight" designations. It's no surprise the beneficiaries of eminent-domain abuse are SB 394's strongest proponents.

Another cause for alarm is House Bill 699, which contains broad factors for condemnation so often abused by governments across the state for private development. It must be rejected.

For real guidance, legislators could look to Pennsylvania's recently passed Senate Bill 881, which overhauled that state's blight statutes. It could also look at model language offered by the Castle Coalition.

As it was sent to the Senate, House Bill 94 provides sensible and long-overdue eminent-domain reform. Senate Bill 394 is a sham. Virginians are watching and can tell the difference.


Free-Lance Star: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS

Steven Anderson is an attorney and coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the national grass-roots property-rights activism project of the Institute for Justice