A couple of hours ago, the Virginia Senate passed by a 35-5 vote, a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would protect private property rights and curb the government’s power of eminent domain. Don’t be deceived by the vote. Often, at the General Assembly, legislation with the largest vote margins were the most difficult to pass, with twists and turns, near-deaths, deaths and resurrections. All could be said of this resolution. Interestingly, the first vote was 30-10 and, seemingly, some senators not wishing to miss the election year train, asked for reconsideration, and jumped on board for the final tally. There were at least a few who almost sank this issue with their committee votes on several versions of this legislation who all of a sudden found their soul. We will identify them in due time. So, the vote appeared anti-climatic.
While it does not have the iron clad language on just compensation as it did coming out of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, ironically, it still goes beyond the House version and does guarantee just compensation for “lost profits” and “lost access” — but it leaves it to the General Assembly to legislate those definitions (which means more work to be done next session!). The negotiations that delayed this vote this week after it stunningly made it out of committee, apparently, at the last minute, made it palpable enough for several on both sides of the aisle, who could not summon the political strength to vote for the committee version.
Now the resolution goes back to the House of Delegates since it was changed from its version. Acceptance of the Senate’s amendments is almost a certainty, with House members openly eager and excited about the opportunity to vote on something given little chance in the hostile Senate when session started, and stronger than when it left the House! (No need to risk going to a conference committee, especially after the Senate has killed attempts for years, including earlier this year.) Just goes to show . . . anything can happen at the General Assembly and nothing should surprise anyone.
Opponents will say they got what they wanted out of it but the truth is they wanted none of this. They lost. Liberty and limited government won today! Never underestimate the influence of an election year. This played out similarly to the eminent domain reform statute the last time the Senate was up for election, in 2007.
Next steps: The resolution must be passed again by the new General Assembly next session — with no changes. That done, it will go to Virginians to ratify at the polls in November 2012.
More to come later. However, we cannot go any further without a bit of thanks — a bit, only, because it is impossible to adequately thank him — to the resolution’s patron, Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Without his determination, legislative skills and persuasive public oratory (we will have video later), we would very likely have to wait another three years (for a total of nine) without the possibility of property rights protection since the infamous and deplorable Supreme Court Kelo decision.