The Eminent Domain Game
Friday, May 05, 2006 :::
I had the opportunity to join a conference call with Joe Waldo, one of Virginia's leading property rights attorneys, to discuss where we go from here on eminent domain reform.
And by "here" I mean nowhere, really, because the General Assembly managed to avoid passing an eminent domain reform bill in this session. On it's face, that would seem to be a very bad thing. The hue and cry over the Supreme Court's Kelo ruling seemed to have cleared the decks for substantive reform just about everywhere. But not so in Virginia, where those entities who have an interest in thwarting eminent domain reform -- including VDOT, local governments, housing authorities, utilities and many, many others -- decided that the best way to stop sweeping change was to strongly support change-in-name-only.
The internal politics and maneuvering Waldo recounted were downright shocking, not the least of which was the intensity of the lobbying effort conducted by VDOT and local governments to stop anything that resembled fundamental reform.
In essence, state and local lobbyists -- supported with taxpayer dollars -- were fighting against the interests of property owners (and taxpayers).
But as with so much that happens in Virginia politics, the Virginia Senate, and particularly Sens. Ken Stolle and Tommy Norment, seem to be a part of the problem, too. Both are attorneys with Kaufman & Canoles, whose clients include municipal governments and Virginia Power -- to entities with a strong interest in maintaining the eminent domain status quo. I don't have a problem with the firm representing these clients -- that's their business. But I do wonder if Sen. Stolle did not have a profound conflict of interest in carrying the Senate's version of an eminent domain bill. Perhaps not directly. But the appearance is there -- and that is troubling.
What are the prospects for substantive eminent domain reform in the next session? That's hard to say. Waldo has high hopes, and I'm sure he's not alone. Next week, a number of organizations devoted to reform will gather in Richmond to discuss the future, and they will be joined by Del. Joannou and Sen. Cuccinelli, both of whom fought very hard for a sweeping reform issue that addressed all three of the points raised in the Kelo case (taxes, employment and economic development).
The most essential thing, and here Joe Waldo was very clear, is that it's critical to put a human face to eminent domain reform. He discussed a number of cases with us, many of which can be found here. These cases are instructive because they show how eminent domain abuse affects real people. And usually, when these stories are told, people react with horror -- can the government really do that? Does this kind of stuff really happen in Virginia?
Yes and yes. It does, and will continue to happen so long as our own government, and perhaps even some of our own elected representatives, continue to place the interests of the state ahead of the rights of the people.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 5/05/2006