VA Senate committee kills ‘emergency’ eminent domain bill

Barbara Hollingsworth

A bill (HB 652) that would have required Virginia officials to take into account an owner’s loss of access to their property when considering “just compensation” in eminent domain cases was shot down by a Senate committee on a 10-3 vote.

The bill which was sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D- Martinsville, passed the House of Delegates on a 98-1 vote in February, but was killed by Armstrong’s fellow Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee.

Northern Virginia senators Chuck Colgan, D-Manassas, Janet Howell, D-Reston, Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, and Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, all voted against it, in effect deciding that Virginia landowners don’t have to be reimbursed for all their losses in eminent domain takings.

Since the Fifth Amendment forbids government officials from taking private property for public use without “just compensation,” these senators just thumbed their noses at the Bill of Rights. Not to mention their top party leader in the House who, rumor has it, fronted the bill for state Democratic Party chairman Dick Cranwell.

“What they’re saying is that your constitutional rights are only good when there’s not a financial impact on the state of Virginia,” said a disgusted John Taylor, president of Tertium Quids (

Abuse of eminent domain is unfortunately nothing new in Virginia. Edd Jennings, a cattle farmer from Wythe County in southwestern Virginia, has been fighting for his property rights for four decades.

Parts of his family farm, dubbed “the most condemned property in America,” have been taken ten times by four different condemning authorities, including the Virginia Department of Transportation. Highway construction flooded his property and covered his home with concrete dust, for which he was never compensated.

“They wanted to build a bridge and split my property in half. We didn’t have any choice…they just took it,” Jennings said in an interview on FOX & Friends.

But it didn’t end there. After cutting his farm in two, VDOT kept coming back and demanding more rights that had not been granted in court, including the installation of gas and power lines. The final straw was when VDOT seized more of Jennings’ property without even bothering to condemn it first, forcing him to file suit against the commonwealth. “Their whim is law,” Jennings said bitterly.

The good news is that the courts are allowing Jennings’ suit to go forward instead of pulling the old sovereignty immunity stunt - which basically means the government can do anything it wants – so at least one taxpayer now has a shot at prevailing against lawless and unconstitutional land grabs. But this gross injustice should never have happened in the first place.

Thanks, senators, for not sticking up for Mr. Jennings and all the other little guys like him in Virginia who are still getting robbed by the state.

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