To the Editor:
I read with interest the opinion of state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller and state Del. Scott Surovell in last week's Gazette in opposition to the proposed Constitutional Amendment limiting the government's ability to impose eminent domain takings on private property owners and requiring compensation for lost profits and lost access. They cite five reasons to oppose: (1) the proposed amendment is too detailed; (2) it is unnecessary because Virginia law covers the situation; (3) condemnation damages which include compensation for lost profits and lost access unfairly favor business owners over non-business properties; (4) the proposed amendment would increase the costs of transportation construction; and (5) "governments fear the consequences from adding lost-access damages."
A brief look at the legislative history of the proposed amendment reveals that Senator Puller and Delegate Surovell are out of the mainstream of political thought in Virginia concerning this issue. Under Virginia law, in order to get a proposed Constitutional Amendment on the ballot, proponents are required to achieve a majority vote in the House of Delegates and Senate in two separate consecutive sessions. A look at the session in 2012 is quite revealing. The House of Delegates approved the measure by a vote of 83 in favor, 14 opposed (including Delegate Surovell), and with three delegates not voting. In the Senate, the vote in the Privileges and Elections Committee was 13 in favor, 2 opposed (including Democrats favoring the proposal by a vote of 5-2). Among those Democrats voting in favor was Senator Creigh Deeds who was the Democrats' most recent gubernatorial nominee (losing to Governor McDonnell). The full Senate approved the measure by a vote of 22 in favor, 16 opposed (including Senator Puller), with two not voting. Since the Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans 20-20, obviously, some Democrats voted in favor of the proposal. It appears that our delegate and senator are even out of the mainstream of thought for the Democratic Party.
Senator Puller and Delegate Surovell attempted to frighten voters into opposing the provision, expressing a concern about how the terms "lost profits" and "lost access" would be applied. This concern is a "red herring." The proposed amendment includes the following language: "The terms 'lost profits' and 'lost access' are to be defined by the General Assembly." Thus, the concerns expressed by Senator Puller and Delegate Surovell can be adequately addressed when the General Assembly defines these terms.
As to the argument that there is no need for the amendment since a law is already in place concerning this issue, one purpose for the amendment is to preclude that law from being changed if a General Assembly and Governor of differing political persuasion decide they want to make it easier for the government to take private property for use in a manner they desire for which the current owner does not concur.
Concerning the transportation issue, if our representatives in Richmond were persuasive in increasing the percentage of our tax money returned to us for transportation improvements, this would be a non-issue. Presumably, they will try harder.
I will not make any recommendation as to how voters should vote on this important issue. My purpose in writing is merely to ensure that voters have a complete picture concerning all the relevant issues so that they can vote on an informed basis. The opinion published on behalf of Senator Puller and Delegate Surovell fell well short of doing so.
H. Jay Spiegel