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Election 2012: Virginia Constitutional Amendments

Voters will decide on changes to eminent domain law and the General Assembly's veto session scheduling on November's ballot.

Election 2012: Virginia Constitutional Amendments

 In less than a month, Virginians will go to the polls and vote for the man they want to see in the Oval Office.  But they’ll also be asked to vote on two amendments to the Virginia Constitution.

Question 1: Eminent Domain Law Changes

The first amendment, known as Question 1, would prohibit local governments from using eminent domain for economic development and job creation. Instead, the seizure of private land would be strictly for public use, such as parks and school buildings. The amendment also requires full compensation of the owner.

State Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, sponsored the amendment during this year's General Assembly session, attempting to change a 2007 law stating that private property can be taken only when public interest outweighs private gain.

The 2007 law was itself a reaction to the Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in Kelo v. New London.

Suzanne Kelo, a New London, Conn., resident, brought the case against that city after eminent domain was used to move her house and pave the way for economic development — plans that fell through after her house was moved. The court ruled 5-4 that the economic development would have benefited the community and made it an acceptable “public use.”

Bell has told the Washington Times and other news outlets the eminent domain amendment is designed to protect property owners, and the language in the amendment states, “the right to private property is a ‘fundamental’ right.”

Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor in 2013, supports the amendment.

"A property rights amendment to Virginia's constitution is the ultimate protection Virginians need, and voters will finally have a property rights amendment to vote on in the November ballot,” he said during a news conference in Norfolk last month. “Hopefully then — finally — we can put this dreaded and abominable era of government taking private property from one landowner and giving it to another behind us.”

But some Virginia localities aren’t as supportive.

The Alexandria City Council formally opposed the amendment in November 2011. Arlington County officials also opposed it around the same time.

An editorial submitted by state Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, published in the Roanoke Times this month  pointed out problems with the amendment.

“To the best of my knowledge, this statute has never been tested before the Supreme Court of Virginia or in any federal court,” he stated. “Yet there has been an ongoing outcry for an amendment to the state constitution to put in place protections that even exceed the statute that Virginia has put in place and had amended over the last few years.”

Edythe Kelleher, a member of the Vienna Town Council and the Virginia Municipal League executive board, shared Watkins’ sentiments.

“This is such an overreaction,” she said. “And I don’t know exactly how it’s going to be interpreted in the courts.”

But she did think voters would push it through, mainly because of the language of the amendment.

“I think it’ll pass by a huge margin,” she said. “How could you not vote for it, the way it’s written up?”

Click here for the full text of the amendment.

Question 2: Veto Session Delays

Virginia voters will also decide whether to allow the General Assembly to delay its veto session by up to one week in order for the session to avoid interfering with events such as religious holidays.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said in a post on conservative blog Bearing Drift the amendment was an easy fix to some minor scheduling problems.

“It’s a wholly uncontroversial Amendment that does nothing to change the nature of the veto session, merely granting the legislature enough flexibility to keep it from convening during Passover,” he stated.

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