House Republicans will offer two pieces of legislation in January to curb the government's authority to take private property from its owner and give it to developers to build private projects.
The pledge by delegates in the House Republican caucus came after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June that New London, Conn., could use eminent domain to seize homes in a working class neighborhood that a developer needed for an upscale shopping, residential, office and entertainment complex.
"We see a need for a statutory fix in the coming General Assembly session and possibly a [state] constitutional amendment to follow down the road," said Del. Bradley P. Marrs (R-Richmond).
Governments always have had the authority to seize private property for a public use, such as a highway, a public school, sewer systems and public utilities, in return for what governments determine to be a fair payment. The Supreme Court ruling allows for governments take property for what is not a clear public use, but it also specifically said states could enact tighter laws against the practice.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) last year unsuccessfully offered legislation to foreclose the possibility of governments using eminent domain to turn over private property to developers.
"I did see this menace coming down the road, and some of my colleagues were talking to me [saying], 'Well, the Supreme Court won't do that,' " Marshall said. "We need to protect property rights from theft, no matter who does it. Putting black gowns on five attorneys and calling them the Supreme Court does not sanitize the odor of theft that is emanating from the New London decision."
Marshall said that although the Connecticut case involved homeowners being forced from long-held family dwellings, there are dozens of smaller examples carried out every day in which a government agrees to widen roads to accommodate traffic going into a new mall or office park.