Eminent domain bill sent to full House: (Hampton Roads VA) Virginian-Pilot, 2/11/06

By Harry Minium

This time, the hearing was a little longer and a bit more rowdy for a bill designed to counteract the U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing governments to condemn properties for economic development projects.

But in the end, the result was the same.

HB94, sponsored by Del. Terrie L. Suit, R-Virginia Beach, advanced to the floor of the [Virginia] House on Friday after it cleared the Courts of Justice Committee 15-4.

It also advanced on a voice vote on Monday, but was brought back for further discussion after delegates complained to Suit that committee chairman David B. Albo, R-Fairfax County, pressured them not to debate or offer amendments.

Albo did much the same Friday when the discussion got intense. With two delegates offering amendments and asking questions, Albo said: “As soon as you make one amendment, the whole deal unravels and you don’t have an eminent domain bill for this year.”

Minutes later, the committee rejected attempts to amend the bill.

The bill is a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision that government can force homeowners to sell for economic development if it is allowed under state law.

Virginia’s courts have ruled that’s not allowed in the commonwealth. Suit’s bill is designed to make sure that is reflected in the Virginia code.

Suit’s bill defines the public purposes for which land can be condemned. One of the most controversial parts of the bill states that eminent domain is not allowed “if the primary purpose is the enhancement of tax revenue.”

“I feel like this is a hole you could drive a truck through,” Del. Ben L. Cline, R-Amherst, told Suit. “It is very easy to say the primary purpose is one thing when it’s really another.

“The people in my district have told me that there should never be a seizure of private property for the enhancement of tax revenue.”

Suit noted that the wording for that part of the bill was suggested by Attorney General Bob McDonnell.

Del. Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott County, who chaired a subcommittee that held a four-hour hearing on the bill, said it wasn’t perfect.

“It was basically decided this was the best wording we could use,” Kilgore said. “Any wording we use is going to have some litigation. This is the best way we felt we could get there.”

Cline voted for the bill, but Suit said she expects attempts to amend it on the floor .

“There are just a number of people out there who believe the power of eminent domain is something that should never be used,” she said.

Virginian-Pilot: http://home.hamptonroads.com