- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

RICHMOND — The General Assembly on Monday signed off on a major priority of Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, approving a constitutional amendment stipulating that private property can only be taken for public use.

“It has been seven long years of effort, but with today’s vote our citizens are one step closer to enshrining in the Constitution of Virginia the protections they deserve from overzealous governments and the developers who use them to take away Virginians’ homes, farms, and small businesses,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “A property rights amendment to Virginia’s Constitution is the ultimate protection Virginians need, and voters will finally have a property rights amendment to vote on in the November ballot.”

Nicole Riley, Virginia state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, worked with a coalition of property rights groups in support of the measure.

“It’s one thing for government to take private property for longstanding and well-agreed public uses, but it’s just plain wrong for the government to take someone’s home, business or farm so someone else can develop the land,” she said.

For a constitutional amendment to be adopted, it must be passed twice in succeeding years, and then placed on the ballot for voter ratification.

Identical legislation was approved last year.

The measure says just compensation for the landowner must equal or exceed the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages caused by the taking. Legislation to define “lost profits and lost access” and a measure to place the amendment on the ballot are scheduled for consideration Tuesday.

Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican, and proponents of the eminent domain measure have repeatedly invoked the 2005 Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision, where the court ruled the city could take private property if intended for economic development to benefit the larger community.

The measure passed on a bipartisan 23-17 vote in the Senate, and an 80-18 vote in the House. But Sen. John C. Watkins, Powhatan Republican, delivered a fiery floor speech against the proposal.

“There’s language in here that says that property rights are fundamental,” he said. “Whatever happened to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? They’re fundamental.”

“I’m a God-fearing, God-believing Christian. … If any of us think that we own the property, you better take a close look inside you,” he continued. “Because God and Mother Nature own everything.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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