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Virginia Candidates Debate Eminent Domain

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Candidates on the ballot in Virginia next month have starkly different views on an eminent domain amendment to the Virginia Constitution.
Michael Pope
Candidates on the ballot in Virginia next month have starkly different views on an eminent domain amendment to the Virginia Constitution.

Candidates in the November election are divided over an amendment to the Virginia constitution regarding eminent domain. The amendment would allow business owners to collect money from local governments if they can prove lost profits and customer access.

Imagine the scenario -- a business owner files suit against Fairfax County because a new median prevents drivers from turning left into his restaurant. That could happen if members of the General Assembly approve an amendment that will be considered in the upcoming session. State Sen. Toddy Puller (D) opposes the amendment as an overreaction to the controversial Supreme Court decision Kelo vs. the City of New London, which broadens the power of eminent domain.

"I truly don't see us doing what happened in Connecticut," Puller says. "I really don't, and I'm not worried about it. I think we are careful about how we use eminent domain."

Jeff Frederick, her Republican challenger, disagrees. "Putting language in the constitution of Virginia prevents judicial activism from toying with people's private-property rights," he says.

Democrat Adam Ebbin, who is running for an open seat in the Virginia senate, says the amendment is flawed because it fails to define lost profits of loss of access.

"Having pieces of a constitutional amendment not defined is an invitation for litigation," says Ebbin. But Ebbin's Republican opponent, Tim McGhee, says the General Assembly can work that out later.

"When you are wrestling with the United States Supreme Court as it relates to their Kelo decision, you need as many options as you can get," says McGhee.

Some Democrats, such as incumbent Sen. George Barker, support the amendment.

"It provides an opportunity to make sure there was not an inappropriate taking of property while still providing some protections for governments and others who need it to have it for roads and those types of things," Barker says. "So I think it strikes a balance." In contrast, Democrat Gerry Hyland, a Fairfax County Supervisor up for reelection this year, says the state will end up having to pay more money when they acquire.

"We'll end up having to pay more money when we acquire properties for such things as roads and public works projects in all of Virginia," Hyland says.

Even though the amendment already passed this year, procedural rules dictate it needs to pass again next year before being sent to voters in 2012.

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