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Constitutional Changes On State's Nov. 6 Ballot

RICHMOND – In addition to electing a presidential candidate, congressman and United States Senator, Virginia voters will also decide the fate of two proposed amendments to the state's constitution.

The first involves the use of eminent domain.

The second affects the annual one-day “veto” session when the General Assembly considers gubernatorial vetoes and legislative amendments.

The eminent domain ballot question asks:

“Shall…the Constitution of Virginia be amended to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for public use?”

The Constitution currently prohibits the taking or damaging of private property for public uses without just compensation. The power to take private property for public uses is known as the power of eminent domain. If a private property owner and the entity acquiring property for a public use cannot agree on the sale of the property, the property may be taken by eminent domain and the amount of just compensation is decided in a court proceeding.

In a 2005 case from Connecticut, the United State Supreme Court upheld the taking of private property and its transfer to a private business for economic development purposes and also said that states could restrict the use of eminent domain. Two years later, the Virginia General Assembly…set limits on the use of eminent domain powers. For example (the Code of Virginia) provides that no more private property may be taken than is necessary for the stated public use, that the public interest for the taking must outweigh any private gain, and that private property cannot be taken for certain primary purposes, such as increasing the tax base, revenues or employment.”

The proposed Constitutional amendment continues that approach, and strengthens its place in the Commonwealth.

While limits in the Code of Virginia can be amended by any future General Assembly, the proposed amendment, if approved by voters, could only be changed by a future Constitutional amendment approved by the voters.

The proposed amendment includes the following:

The right to private property is a “fundamental” right.

The taking or damaging of private property must be for a “public use.”

Just compensation for property taken is expanded and defined to be “no less than the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages to the residue caused by 'the taking.'

The entity condemning the property, known as the condemnor, has the burden to prove that the property is being taken for a public use.

The “veto” session ballot question asks:

Shall the section of the Constitution of Virginia “concerning legislative sessions be amended to allow the General Assembly to delay by no more than one week the fixed starting date for the reconvened or 'veto' session when the General Assembly meets after a session to consider the bills returned to it by the Governor with vetoes or amendments?”

Currently, after the end of every legislative session, the General Assembly is required by the Constitution to meet again or reconvene in a “veto” session. The only bills that the General Assembly can consider in a veto session are bills that it had passed during the legislative session and that the Governor has sent back to it with his vetoes and suggested amendments.

The Constitution now requires that the veto session must begin on the sixth Wednesday following the end of each legislative session. The veto session usually lasts for only one day and cannot last more than ten days.

The proposed amendment would allow the General Assembly to delay the start of the veto session for up to one week, thereby able to avoid possible scheduling of the veto session on a religious holiday, such as Passover. The proposed amendment does not change the present limits on the business that can be considered in a veto session or on the length of the veto session.