A Virginia property rights bill to thwart government overreach is being heralded by local farmers.
The bill is being proposed in reaction to the “pitchfork protests” which occurred last year in Fauquier County, when local grower Martha Boneta was cited for selling homemade products on her farm. Government officials threatened to levy a $5,000 per day fine against Boneta after she sold products, hosted a birthday party of a young girl and advertised pumpkin carvings as a part of the festivities – without the “necessary” requirements.
Republican Delegate Bob Marshall introduced HB 1219 to correct the property rights intrusions going on in Virginia. The bill would offer remedies for property owners when local governmental entities “abuse zoning laws and violate Constitutional rights,” according to Marshall. Whistleblower protections for county employees who report abuses of power are also built into the legislation. If the property rights bill becomes law, it will also grant the Virginia attorney general the authority to intervene in legal case against municipalities or counties on behalf of citizens.
Martha Boneta praised Marshall for drawing attention to the issue.
“I am convinced this harassment will continue until local officials realize they can be held liable in the form of fines and other costs,” she said. “I am confident that I would not have been bullied by my county government had this bill been in place earlier, and I ask all Virginians to contact their delegates and senators to support H.B. 1219, which protects all of us.”
Marshall stated that HB 1219 will level the playing field for property owners by reversing a Virginia Supreme Court decision in 1981 which gave all county ordinances a “presumption of Constitutional validity.” The legislation expressly empowers the court system to immediately nullify local zoning statutes that violate Constitutional rights of property owners.
According to a press release from Marshall, the bill would require that local governments that violate constitutional rights pay victims not only “the amount of the fines they sought to impose” but also “actual damages including attorney fees.”
Boneta and other family farmers converged on Richmond recently to push for property protection measures. One bill they supported, the Virginia Farm Freedom bill authored by Delegate Rob Bell (HB 135), was buried during House Agriculture Subcommittee meetings, Watchdog.org reported. The bill would have allowed growers to sell their own products without government regulation. Each product would contain a label: “Not for Resale – Processed and Prepared Without State Inspection” sticker.
School bake sales have been a staple in this country for decades, but the “health risks” associated with buying a brownie from a baseball team or school club would be virtually identical to the items sold from Virginia farms. The growers in the state, along with those who enjoy the fresh and natural products they offer, do not see the need for state involvement when simply trying to sell or purchase an organically grown apple or pumpkin to carve with their children.
“There’s no question Marshall’s bill will help,” Martha Boneta said. “… It’s heartbreaking: I could be tending my crops or aviary instead of fighting court battles. Small farmers are under unbearable pressure.”