Virginia General Assembly Strikes A Blow For Property Rights

While all of the attention during the final hours of the Virginia General Assembly session was focused on the transportation bill, the Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill aimed at restricting local government’s authorty to use the power of eminent domain:

RICHMOND — After more than a year of work on the issue, the General Assembly on Saturday passed legislation that restricts government’s power to seize private property by invoking eminent domain.

The Senate and House of Delegates agreed on bills that define “public uses” under which government can take private property, stripping out a Senate provision that would give housing and redevelopment authorities greater ability to condemn property in blighted areas.

The passage of House Bill 2954 and Senate Bill 1296 nearly completes lawmakers’ efforts to strengthen eminent domain restrictions in the wake of a 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London. In that case, the court upheld a Connecticut city’s condemnation of a homeowner’s property for a private development project.

The bills define five “public uses” for which private property can be taken. The legislation allows eminent domain for eliminating blight, but only if the property itself is blighted.

The bills would not affect current plans of redevelopment and housing authorities if they file petitions for condemnation by July 1, 2009.

The text of the relevant bill can be found here and it limits the power of eminent domain to the following situations:

(i) the property is taken for the possession, ownership, occupation, and enjoyment of property by the public or a public corporation;

(ii) the property is taken for construction, maintenance, or operation of public facilities by public corporations or by private entities provided that there is a written agreement with a public corporation providing for use of the facility by the public;

(iii) the property is taken for the creation or functioning of any public service corporation, public service company, or railroad;

(iv) the property is taken for the provision of any authorized utility service by a government utility corporation;

(v) the property is taken for the elimination of blight provided that the property itself is a blighted property; or

(vi) the property taken is in a redevelopment or conservation area and is abandoned or the acquisition is needed to clear title where one of the owners agrees to such acquisition.

Not perfect, but still a fairly good start and even the definition of “blight”, which is an area where local governments have frequently gotten away with murder, is fairly restrictive:

“Blighted property” means any property that endangers the public health and safety in its condition at the time of the filing of the petition for condemnation and is (i) vacant and constitutes a public nuisance or (ii) an individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that is beyond repair or unfit for human habitation or use.

Like I said, a good start. Hopefully, Governor Kaine will do the right thing on this one.

More coverage over at Bearing Drift

Originally posted at Below The Beltway