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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Virginia Gun Owners Should Vote Yes on Property Rights Constitutional Amendment

Besides the Presidential and Congressional elections this year, there are two constitutional amendments on the Virginia Ballot.  One of those amendments should be of interest to gun owners and deals with property rights.  The question on the ballot is:
Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?
VSSA urges a yes vote on this question. Article I, Section 11 of the Virgiinia Constitution prohibits the taking or damaging of private property for public uses without just compensation. The power to take private property for public uses is known as the power of eminent domain. If a private property owner and the entity acquiring property for a public use cannot agree on the sale of the property, the property may be taken by eminent domain and the amount of just compensation is decided in a court proceeding. 
The 2005 Kelo case from Connecticut (Kelo v. City of New London
, 545 U.S. 469), changed all of that.  In Kelo, the United States Supreme Court upheld the taking of private property and its transfer to a private business for economic development purposes and also said that states could restrict the use of eminent domain.
You may say that something like this would never happen in Virginia.  But it already has, and you can see it on exit 263 on I-64 in Hampton.  The city came to the land owner and said they needed 18 acres of land for an exit ramp.  The land owner replied that an exit ramp doesn't take 18 acres.  He was correct.  The city wanted 17 of the 18 acres so a developer could build the shopping center that is currently home to the Hampton Bass Pro Shops and other stores.

With development increasing in rural areas, many of which are home to Virginia's shooting ranges, localities could see taking these properties as a way to end noise complaints from the new neighbors of the ranges, and the added benefit of increasing their tax base through development.

In 2007, the General Assembly enacted § 1-219.1 of the Code of Virginia and set limits on the use of eminent domain powers. For example, § 1-219.1 provides that no more private property may be taken than is necessary for the stated public use, that the public interest for the taking must outweigh any private gain, and that private property cannot be taken for certain primary purposes such as increasing the tax base, revenues, or employment. But a code section can be amended and our property rights infringed at any time.  Unlike a code section, the proposed constitutional amendment adds the additional protection of only being changed by a future constitutional amendment approved by the voters.

Vote Yes on the Property Rights Constitutional Amendment.

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