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Court's ruling studied
Some in the Virginia General Assembly want to pass legislation limiting eminent domain.

Date published: 7/12/2005

By CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND--In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that localities can exercise eminent domain powers for economic development, Virginia lawmakers are planning to change Virginia's eminent domain laws.

The court's decision says that while localities may use eminent domain to take private property for public use, state legislatures may define public use.

So state officials want to tighten Virginia's law to specify that economic development is not a qualifying public use.

"If a state acts to affirmatively limit the powers of eminent domain, they can certainly do that," said House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, who decried the court's ruling when it came down. "So the opportunity is certainly there to correct it."

Ruling in a Connecticut case, the Supreme Court had said that local governments can take private property--say, a house--and give it to another private entity--say, a developer, if the private entity plans to use the property for a purpose that will benefit more people. The scenario that opponents of the ruling envision is one in which a locality takes your house through eminent domain, gives the property to a developer who will build a mall, because the mall will generate more tax revenue and therefore qualifies as economic development.

The Virginia Housing Commission met on the subject last night in Falls Church to discuss the ruling.

Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, had submitted legislation in the 2005 General Assembly session that would have essentially done what lawmakers want done now, by prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private profit.

That bill was tabled in the House Counties, Cities and Towns committee because legislators knew the Supreme Court ruling was coming up, and they wanted to wait and see how it played out.

Now Marshall is planning to resubmit his bill in the 2006 session.

"I saw this thing coming, and I wanted to do something," Marshall said. "Frankly, the Supreme Court's decision has gotten everyone's attention. [But] we can change it. That's the one saving grace. This is not like the abortion decision where the court pre-empted us from doing anything. I intend Virginia to be more restrictive to protect homeowners, small businessmen. This is the classic big dog eats small dog fight."


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