On January 25, I reported with some foreboding, "Two bills under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly, designed to protect the rights of property owners against aggressive eminent domain practices by state and local government, are in danger of defeat at the committee level."
I am now happy to report that the bills not only passed the General Assembly, they have now been signed into law by Governor Mark Warner.
According to a message from the Virginia Property Rights Coalition:
We have just received the wonderful news that HB1820 and HB 1821 have been signed by Governor Warner. Attendance at Committee Meetings, all of the grassroots calls, letters, and e-mails, lobbying by Susan Rubin of the Virginia Farm Bureau and the hard work of Delegate Bob McDonald made the difference this year.These bills do not address all of the issues of eminent domain abuse that should concern property owners and taxpayers. They do not rise to meet the questions at play in the Kelo case now under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court, for instance. Yet they add something of a cushion to Virginia law to give property owners more protection today than they had yesterday.
As you know all previous efforts to pass this type of legislation have been stopped in Committee never reaching the floor of the General Assembly.
Below is a copy of both bills.HB 1820
Eminent domain; regulations for condemnor's right of entry.
Terrie L. Suit
Summary as passed:
Eminent domain; right of entry to inspect. Modifies the provisions associated with a condemnor's entry onto property by (i) expanding the information provided in the initial request for permission to inspect and strengthening delivery requirements; (ii) requiring that the notice of intent to enter be posted or otherwise delivered to the owner in person, in addition to being sent by certified mail; and (iii) providing that if the owner files an action to recover damages caused by entry and is awarded judgment in an amount 30 percent or more than the condemnor's final written offer, or if the court finds that the condemnor maliciously, willfully or recklessly damaged the owner's property, the court may award the owner reasonable court costs, attorney fees, and fees for up to three expert witnesses testifying at trial.
Eminent domain; procedure for acquisition of property by State.
Terrie L. Suit
Summary as passed:
Eminent domain; acquisition of property. Modifies the provisions associated with acquisitions under eminent domain by (i) requiring that a state agency's acquisition of real property be conducted in accordance with provisions that are only precatory under current law, including that the state agency establish an initial amount that is no less than the agency's approved appraisal of the fair market value of the property and that no owner can be required to surrender possession until the state agency pays the agreed purchase price or deposits funds with the court, and (ii) providing that if an owner is awarded at trial as compensation for the taking of or damage to property an amount that is 30 percent or more greater than the amount of the petitioner's written offer, the court may award the owner reasonable appraisal and engineering fees, and reasonable fees and travel costs for up to three expert witnesses testifying at trial. The cost award provisions do not apply to cases involving easements valued at less than $10,000 or to cases in which a petition in condemnation or certificate of take or deposit was filed prior to July 1, 2005.
These bills are a great victory and though there is still much to do next year, lets just take a while and really enjoy this monentous step toward an eminent domain system that treats Virginia property owners fairly.