Panel seeks eminent domain bill: Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, 3/8/06

Legislation came forth after justices allowed use for development

By Greg Edwards

Two very different bills aimed at curbing the use of government condemnation power are headed for a [Virginia] General Assembly conference committee.

The eminent-domain bills, sponsored by two Virginia Beach Republicans, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle and Del. Terrie L. Suit, started through the legislature as very different proposals.

Stolle's bill, only 15 lines long, said simply that the condemnation of private property for the "primary purpose" of economic development was not a public use allowed by the Virginia Constitution.

Suit's bill, which stretched to 79 lines, sought to limit condemnation while allowing its existing use for such things as blight removal and building utility lines and roads.

Both bills responded to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June in a Connecticut case. The high court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not block the condemnation of private property for an economic development in which the property is then turned over to another private entity. But the court added that the states can impose more stringent limits on eminent domain.

At one point during the two months of lawmaking, Suit's and Stolle's bills were very similar in form and substance. But now they are starkly different proposals.

Suit's bill got a radical makeover in the House of Delegates, where its journey began, but was restored by the Senate yesterday. It looks much the same as it did when she introduced it.

Stolle's bill, which is a floor vote away from passage in the House, bears little resemblance to its original format.

Suit's measure is favored by local governments and others that use condemnation powers. The House version of Stolle's bill is closer to the legislation sought by property-rights advocates who want a strong law to prevent abuse of eminent-domain power.

A conference committee will have to dish up something that both sides can swallow.

Also yesterday, the Senate passed a bill that defines a blighted area or property for the purposes of redevelopment and the use of eminent domain. Again, the Senate measure differs from the House version.

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