Eminent Domain & Compensation

Proposed amendments to the state Constitution to clarify when governments can take private property in Virginia have passed each house of the General Assembly.  But companion legislation to redefine the “just compensation” that’s given to property-owners in cases of eminent domain has also advanced.  State lawmakers are concerned about how to make the law tough enough to be fair to property-owners.

The constitutional amendment makes clear that land taken for public use cannot be for private gain—and payments to owners must be for its true value, lost profits, and lost access to nearby property.  Two House and Senate bills define those terms.  Some lawmakers were concerned that these conditions could result in a multi-million dollar fiscal impact.  But bill sponsor and Senator Mark Obenshain said that’s only fair when you consider schools, roads, and other projects.

“Why on earth should that property-owner alone bear the burden of the losses occasioned for the benefit of the community in general?” asked Obenshain.

But bill supporter Senator Chap Peterson was concerned it might not be fair to small-business owners who don’t report profits on their tax forms.

“This thing needs some work because right now it is screwed down so tight that the small businesses I represent in Fairfax County—they’re never going to recover,” said Peterson.

All of the measures still must cross over to the opposite chambers for votes there.  If the constitutional amendment passes, voters will have the final say in November.

–Anne Marie Morgan

 

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