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July 7, 2005

‘Fairness and uniformity’ sought in statewide policy

RICHMOND—Virginia farmers and foresters will be looking for fairness and consistency when they visit the polls in November, and the commonwealth’s candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general might have to pay particular attention to those qualities with regard to eminent domain.

The 2006 Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Initiative, an innovative platform that promotes the future viability of the state’s agriculture and forestry system, lists fairness and uniformity in statewide policy among its seven key principles by which it will measure and endorse candidates for statewide office. The initiative was formed via collaboration among the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Forestry Association and Virginia Forestry Products Association.

“We want to be sure that policies affecting agriculture and forestry production activities in Virginia are consistent, reasonable and based on sound science,” said Martha Moore, VFBF director of governmental relations. “It is also crucial that these policies uphold the rights of private property owners.”

The initiative referred to a section of the Virginia Constitution to clarify its position on eminent domain: “the General Assembly shall not pass any … law whereby private property shall be taken or damaged for public uses without just compensation …” The subject has taken on increased importance after a June 23 Supreme Court decision allowed local governments to seize people’s homes and businesses against their will for private development that has public benefit. The decision represents a huge expansion of the definition of public use. The public outcry over the decision accompanies long-standing complaints from property owners on the government’s lack of fair compensation and treatment for condemned land.

“Full compensation and fair treatment are due landowners when their lands are condemned or when their ability to produce from their land is restricted by government actions,” Moore said. “Policy should recognize that private property ownership creates incentives to initiate and sustain progress and use resources more efficiently.”

The Agriculture and Forestry Initiative also seeks candidates who strike a proper balance between environmental concerns and practical economic reality, and ensure state laws are based on rational and unbiased application of scientific knowledge and sound management principles. “Consistent and uniform laws ensure understanding by those asked to follow them,” Moore said. “Effective state agriculture and forestry policies must be reasonable and fair to the owners of affected land and businesses. That helps ensure the long-term viability of farming and forestry.”

Further, the initiative seeks candidates willing to strengthen and fully support right-to-farm and right-to-practice-forestry laws, noting that state laws need to provide a framework that ensures consistent local and state policies. The group believes that frequent amendment of policies should be avoided, since doing so undermines confidence in the legislative process.

Contact Moore at 804-290-1013 or martha.moore@vafb.com.

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