The Washington Post

McDonnell signs off on property rights referendum

Virginians will decide at the polls this fall if the state Constitution should be amended to make it harder for government to seize property by eminent domain.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

The measure was inspired by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the right of governments to take private property for economic development projects.

The legislation passed the House and Senate last year. It came before the General Assembly again this year because in order to amend Virginia’s Constitution, the proposed change must pass the General Assembly twice, with an election in between. Then, it must be approved by voters through referendum.

Virginia’s proposed amendment was one of many to crop up across the country after the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 against a Connecticut woman whose house was seized by the city of New London for an economic development project.

The bill ran into bipartisan opposition in Senate committees this year after concerns were raised that it could prove too costly. Government auditors put the cost at $36 million a year, but some lawmakers think it will be much higher.

Much of the opposition centered on related legislation, which defined certain terms in the proposed amendment, such as lost profits. Some Republicans and Democrats said they feared that compensation would be too open-ended, and that someone whose store was taken for a road project, for instance, could seek to recover lost profits for years and years.

Because of those concerns, the Senate declined to act for weeks. But the proposed Constitutional amendment and related legislation ultimately passed.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.



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