As Virginia moves closer to a constitutional amendment to protect private property owners from eminent domain abuse, Congress is considering similar legislation.

Virginia law regarding eminent domain was changed in 2007 to strictly define public use, in response to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed states to use eminent domain to take private property for other private development.

That decision has been protested ever since, because the court ignored the normal “public use” standard that maintained land could be taken only for a legitimate public use.

A bill was introduced in the 2011 General Assembly to amend the Virginia constitution to mirror the 2007 statutory changes and further ensure just compensation for landowners. It passed again this year and will be on the ballot for Virginia voters in November.

The proposed amendment has three key parts: Public entities can take private property for public use only; the entities cannot take more land than is necessary for that public use; and landowners must be justly compensated.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farm organization, has supported the amendment over the past several years.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently approved similar legislation. The Private Property Rights Protection Act, H.R. 1443, would prevent states from using eminent domain to take property for economic development and establish a private right of action for property owners if a state or local government violates the new rule. It also would limit federal funds to states where property is taken in violation of the law.

“The fact that our federal legislature is also taking steps to ensure landowners’ rights is very encouraging,” said Trey Davis, VFBF assistant director of governmental relations.

“I hope this support for private property rights from state and federal government continues into the fall, and that the constitutional amendment is successful on the 2012 Virginia ballot.”