Virginia Fails to Pass Eminent Domain Reform, Citizens Left Unprotected

PRESS RELEASE: March 13, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Virginia legislators failed to reach an agreement on eminent domain reform over the weekend, leaving the citizens of the Commonwealth unprotected against the abuse of eminent domain—the government’s power to take property for private commercial development.  The General Assembly closed its session on Saturday, so the opportunity for reform this year has passed. 

A conference committee was considering two measures, HB 94 and SB 394.  House Bill 94, which had been amended by Del. Johnny Joannou, would have provided Virginians with real, common-sense eminent domain reforms by limiting the power to those situations where the government would actually own and occupy the land acquired.  It also allowed for the acquisition of property for utilities.  Senate Bill 394, on the other hand, was riddled with exceptions, the most glaring of which provided for the use of eminent domain to remove so-called blight under the Housing Authorities Law, which would allow for the taking of even demonstrably non-blighted properties.  Despite being amended by House Bill 699, the Housing Authorities Law defines blight so broadly that almost any property could be designated “blighted,” thus triggering eminent domain.

“The General Assembly missed the perfect opportunity to reform Virginia’s horrible eminent domain laws in a way that all Virginia homeowners, small businesses, farmers and churches would support,” said Steven Anderson, coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the Institute for Justice’s nationwide grassroots activism project to fight eminent domain abuse.  “There was hope that legislators would react to the wishes of their constituents, who overwhelmingly favored real eminent domain reform.  Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Del. Joannou and Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, they did not.”

“What happened in Richmond highlights how special interests can fight common-sense reform,” said IJ staff attorney Bert Gall.  “The beneficiaries of eminent domain patrolled the General Assembly building day and night, aware of the near-universal popular support for real eminent domain reform.  Knowing their awesome powers could be reined in, lobbyists for politically connected developers and planners pulled out all the stops to scuttle reform—and they succeeded this time.”

“I’m confident Virginia ultimately will stop these land grabs, where the government is simply taking property from one private owner only to hand it over to a private developer for private use,” continued Anderson.  “The issue isn’t going away and the Castle Coalition won’t stop until Virginians get the reforms they deserve.”

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision, Kelo v. City of New London, the Institute for Justice and Castle Coalition launched the “Hands Off My Home” campaign, an initiative to effect eminent domain reform at all levels of government.  Since the campaign began, more than 47 states have either passed or considered passing eminent domain reforms.

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