Farm Bureau seeks eminent domain limits

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Farm Bureau will discuss plans this week to lobby the 2012 General Assembly for a constitutional amendment to limit the government's ability to take private land.

The state's largest farm lobby meets Tuesday through Thursday in Norfolk for its annual convention. Voting delegates will take up the Farm Bureau's 2012 legislative agenda on Wednesday.

Both chambers of the Virginia legislature approved a constitutional amendment in the 2011 session to make changes to the state's eminent domain law. If approved in the 2012 session, it would be on the ballot for voters' consideration.

The federation's president, Wayne F. Pryor, said the constitutional amendment would more sharply define what public use is and "ensures more land is not taken than is necessary."

Pryor casts the issue as one critical to farmers, saying they "need the land to farm."

"For them, it's their land, they bought it, they paid for it, they pay taxes on it and they just don't feel it's right to take it from them and give it to another private entity," Pryor said in a video produced by the Farm Bureau.

The constitutional amendment provides that private property can only be taken for public use, and would prohibit eminent domain actions for private enterprise, job creation, tax revenue generation or economic development.

The Farm Bureau cites a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision involving a Connecticut case. The justices ruled 5-4 that local governments may seize homes and businesses — even against the owners' will — for private economic development.

Opposition is already mounting to the proposed amendment, primarily from the Virginia Municipal League and northern Virginia localities, including Alexandria, Arlington and the Strasburg Town Council.

In its summary of 2012 legislative issues, the league calls the amendment "unnecessary." It states the amendment would be harmful to state residents and limit the ability of local governments to carry out projects to "help improve life for the commonwealth's population."

Arlington has agreed to contribute as much as $5,000 to lobby against the legislation, The Washington Times reported.

The Farm Bureau said its members have collected more than 13,500 signatures in support of the constitutional amendment.

"Farmers own a lot of open land, farmers own a lot of open space, and those spaces are targeted for roads, highways, parks and other things," Wilmer Stoneman II, a Farm Bureau lobbyist said. "We don't think it's right to take someone's livelihood and give it to someone else."

The Farm Bureau claims more than 150,000 members statewide. During the convention, voting delegates from each of Virginia's 88 county farm bureaus will discuss and vote on the organization's state and federal legislative policies for the coming year.

Among the "priority" issues in the 2012 session are:

— Opposition to legislation that places "arbitrary and unscientific" animal care practices on farmers.

— Support for farmland preservation measures to keep farmers in farming.

— Opposition to the "sweeping precedents" contained in the clean-up provisions of the Chesapeake Bay restoration program directed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The American Farm Bureau Federation sued the EPA in January, claiming the EPA is overstepping its authority in developing stringent new rules to limit farm runoff into the bay.

Farm Bureau delegates are also expected to consider a change in the federation's policy on uranium mining.

The farm lobby's current position states that it supports an analysis of uranium mining's impact on agriculture, which is included in a broad, statewide study by a National Academy of Sciences panel. It is to be delivered in December.

There is concern among some Farm Bureau members, however, that legislation to lift a 1982 ban on uranium mining will be introduced in the upcoming session before the findings of that study and others are thoroughly reviewed.

Stoneman said the subject will likely spark debate.

"I think we've got members on both sides of the idea, and this convention is where we'll iron those ideas out," he said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

 



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