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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Republican ticket vows to undo court’s recent property decision; B1

Candidates say they will make sure land grabs do not happen in Virginia
By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Virginia’s Republican ticket has decided to make undoing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision a priority for the next legislative session.

In Kelo v. New London, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state legislatures have wide latitude in interpreting the meaning of “public use” when using the power of eminent domain to take private property.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that government can take property for public use, but not without just compensation. In Kelo v. New London, a Connecticut redevelopment authority sought to displace homeowners to redevelop their property into higher-value projects that would generate more tax revenue.

A five-justice majority held that the state legislature had the right to define what “public use” means, and that the redevelopers could take the homes.

State Sen. Bill Bolling, R-Mechanicsville, and Del. Bob McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach, GOP candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, told reporters earlier this month that if elected they would join with former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the GOP candidate for governor, to make sure a Kelo-type land grab couldn’t happen in Virginia.

Eminent domain provisions in the state code would be amended to exclude takings for economic development. The constitution, which gives the General Assembly the job of defining “public use,” also would be amended to exclude efforts primarily for economic development.

Development authorities could continue to redevelop blighted areas, but there would have to be a larger benefit than just more tax money, the candidates said.

“What we have done is to maintain a fairly bright line in this proposal,” McDonnell said. Allowing takings just to make money for government is “completely contrary to our founders’ intent.”
Kelo is a “direct threat to the principle of private property rights, and we just can’t allow that decision to stand,” added Bolling.

The General Assembly must act to “make sure we’re not headed down a track of social land use engineering,” he said.
Democratic gubernatorial contender Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine issued statement opposing the ruling not long after it was released.

“I am deeply concerned with the effect the Supreme Court’s ruling could have on the rights of our home owners and small businesses,” the statement says.

“I know that we can redevelop neighborhoods that need it without infringing on our property rights,” he says. “As Governor, I will continue to strengthen Virginia law by supporting legislation that would strictly limit the definition of “public use” to justify condemnation.”

Kaine’s comments were echoed in a statement by state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, the Democratic nominee for attorney general.

“I will introduce the necessary legislation to protect our time honored practice of respecting personal property rights in the 2006 General Assembly session,” he says.

“At the same time, Virginia’s constitution provides state protections that I will ask the court to read in a manner that affords property owners greater protection,” he says.

Calls for changing eminent domain — and curtailing a potential economic development tool — come at a time when local governments are seeking more power from Richmond to raise money to deal with growing schools and other budget needs.

But local government’s request for help aren’t falling on deaf ears, said Bolling.

“I understand those concerns,” he said. “There are legitimate ways to promote economic development, but you don’t do that by seizing private property against their will.”

“We know we have aging cities,” added Rep. Thelma Drake, R-2nd. Both the state and federal government will work to achieve a balance between “the need to redevelop and the rights of private property owners.”

Kelo v. New Hampshire is a good example of why the Dillon Rule, the judicial precept that local governments can do only what they’re expressly authorized to do by the General Assembly, should stay a part of Virginia jurisprudence, McDonnell said.

It’s better for business and the economy, since companies only have to deal with one set of rules. Eminent domain rules shouldn’t be a “local whim,” he said.