GOP candidates lobby to limit eminent domain: The (Hampton Roads VA) Virginian-Pilot , 7/14/05

By Michelle Washington

Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are calling for changes to state laws defining when a government can seize private property.

Sen. Bill Bolling, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and Del. Bob McDonnell, the party’s attorney general candidate, held a telephone news conference this week to call for amendments to state laws and the Virginia constitution.

U.S. Del. Thelma Drake, R-2nd District, joined the conversation, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore gave written support.

Their proposals stemmed from the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London, Conn., which allows the government to seize land for economic development under powers known as “eminent domain.”

The U.S. Constitution provides that government may seize land “for public use” if it pays the owners “just compensation.”

In the past, public uses have included schools, roads or military bases.

The Supreme Court’s decision expands the definition of public use and allows governments to seize property from unwilling sellers to create jobs or raise tax collections.

But the court also held that states may limit eminent domain power.

McDonnell, Bolling and Drake said they support amendments to Virginia’s constitution and statutes to limit the definition of “public use.”

As written, the state’s constitution says citizens “cannot be taxed, or deprived of, or damaged in, their property for public uses, without their own consent.”

The constitution does not enumerate public uses. The state’s code says: “The term 'public uses’ ... is hereby defined to embrace all uses which are necessary for public purposes.”

The Republicans in Tuesday’s news conference said “public use” should be better defined.

“Whatever public use means, it will not include the primary purpose of economic development or tax enhancement,” McDonnell said.

Drake said their efforts to define “public use” would not affect land on Granby Street in Norfolk that is being developed as a high-rise condominium. The federal government has said it is interested in the land to expand the Walter E. Hoffman U.S. Courthouse, which sits across the street. A courthouse is clearly a public use, Drake said.

Bolling said the state’s definition of “public use” has always been vague.

“There are legitimate ways to promote economic development,” Bolling said. “Don’t do it by seizing private property against the owner’s will.”

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