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The proper(ty) choice
Question 1 on the November ballot: Important for all Virginians

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Date published: 10/11/2012

ONCE VOTERS wade through the parade of candidates on the ballot in Virginia on Nov. 6, their work is not yet done. Farther down is an amendment to the state constitution. And anyone who now owns or ever hopes to own property in Virginia should vote "yes" on it.

Question 1 would limit the ability of condemning authorities to exercise eminent domain in "taking" private property. These authorities--state and local governments, utilities, and agencies such as VDOT--were handed a trump card by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2005 Kelo vs. City of New London decision. The court ruled that New London, Conn., could take Susette Kelo's little pink house and give the space to an economic-development agency with a grand plan (which, by the way, never came to fruition).

The decision no doubt sent sundry Founding Fathers spinning in their graves. It flies in the face of a foundational assumption of this nation: that private property is next door to sacred. "Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist," wrote John Adams. Only as a last resort should the government take private property. Yet Kelo lets governments seize anyone's land and give it to some third-party entity that can, in the state's eye, make "better" use of it.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law that was a step toward shielding Virginians from Kelo's imperious credo. But laws can be voided once the public's eye shifts and lobbyists woo legislators. That's why enshrining Kelo protection in the state constitution is essential.

Make no mistake, powerful forces would love to break the statutory chains binding Kelo in the Old Dominion. Local governments would covet the chance, for example, to take property owned by a small business and turn it over to GigantiCorp, the better to reap heftier tax revenues. Utilities would prefer to pay bottom dollar for land they need. And when highway construction bisects a farm or limits access to a business, VDOT would like to pare its compensation to a minimum.


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