November 10, 2005
Farmers applaud private property protection
WASHINGTONVirginia farmers concerned with the possibility of losing their land to unfair eminent domain actions applauded passage of the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005 in the House of Representatives Nov. 3.
“No one has more to lose than farmers when it comes to the potential abuse of eminent domain powers by government and utilities,” said Bruce L. Hiatt, president of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Whenever new power lines need to be built, whenever highways need to be widened, whenever localities need property for economic development, it’s often farmland that’s condemned.”
And since this past summer’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, farmers have been even more concerned, Hiatt said. While the U.S. Constitution clearly requires just compensation for property taken for public use under eminent domain, the case broke new legal ground.
“The whole argument revolved around what was the best use of the property for increasing tax revenue for the city,” he noted. “While a farmer may feel his land is best used for raising crops or livestock, many local political leaders favor more shopping centers and other development to generate more tax income.”
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wisconsin, the legislation passed in the House by a vote of 376-38. Goodlatte, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, was one of the first legislators to speak out against the recent court ruling.
“This appalling decision strikes a serious blow to the core values of our nation and has far-reaching implications,” he said. “In defining public use so expansively, the court essentially erased any protection of private property as understood by the founders of our nation.”
According to Goodlatte’s office, the Private Property Rights Protection Act will prevent governments from taking property from one private party and giving it to another private party for economic development purposes. When abuses occur, the legislation would prevent localities and states from receiving federal economic development funds. In addition, the act prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development purposes.
Farm Bureau has been working for reform of Virginia’s eminent domain laws in the General Assembly, and last year saw some progress. The legislature made it harder for condemning powers to enter private property for surveying purposes and forced those organizations to pay court costs when landowners sue and win higher compensation for their property.
The assembly will be asked to pass even stronger protections for private property owners in the 2006 session, Hiatt said.
Contact Martha Moore, VFBF governmental relations director, at 804-290-1013 or Norm Hyde, VFBF video producer, at 804-290-1146.