By Jeb Inge
In addition to federal, state and local elections, Virginians on Tuesday also will decide two possible changes to the commonwealth's constitution.
Question one on the ballot concerns the definition of eminent domain.
Proposed by State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26) in the Senate, and Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) in the House of Delegates, question one further defines eminent domain, and when land may or may not be taken by commonwealth or local governments. It stipulates that land owners get compensation at least equal to the value of the land in question.
Article 1, Section 11 of the Virginia Constitution prohibits the seizure or damaging of private property for public use without just compensation. Eminent domain is a term used to describe the power of the government to take private property for public use after receiving compensation or payment to the owner.
The proposed amendment contains the following:
-- The right to private property is a "fundamental" right.
-- The taking or damaging of private property must be for a "public use."
-- No more property may be taken or damaged than is necessary for the stated public use.
-- The entity condemning property has the burden of proof that the land being taken is for public use.
-- Just compensation for the taking of property is further defined to be "no less than the value of the property being taken, lost profits and lost access."
-- Elimination of a public nuisance may be a public use. It is not a public use if the "primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development."
Obenshain, who is running for his party's nomination for state attorney general in 2013, calls the amendment "a bulwark against eminent domain abuse," and has found support from Republicans including current Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli.
The Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia voted to oppose the amendment, claiming it "will lock ... a prohibition on using eminent domain to advance private enterprise, job creation, tax revenue generation or economic development."
Question two on the ballot, if passed, would allow the General Assembly to delay by one week the fixed date for the annual Reconvened "Veto" Session usually held in April to address bills returned to the legislature by the governor.
The proposed amendment would allow the legislature the ability to avoid scheduling the veto session on a religious holiday such as Passover or Easter. It has not garnered the attention or controversy of the proposed eminent domain amendment.
More information on the proposed amendment, including the full text of both questions and amendments, is available at www.sbe.virginia.gov.
Contact Region Editor Jeb Inge at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org