Governor Northam has signed into law important legislation preserving the integrity of conservation easements throughout Virginia.
The last six months has been a whirlwind of legislative action. The 2020 special session extended into mid-October, creating a mad scramble at its conclusion to prepare for the 2021 regular session. PEC was busy drafting bills and budget amendments, finding sponsors and having the conversations necessary to set up our initiatives for success before the new session began on January 13. The 2021 regular session was eventually extended into a special session that concluded on March 1.
At this point in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, the House and Senate versions of the budget have passed their respective chambers and a conference committee has been assigned to work out the differences. While we believe many of our conservation funding priorities are well-positioned, we’re making a final push to help ensure they make it into the final budget.
Preserving historic resources is crucial to understanding our nation’s history. However, historic resources related to African-American and indigenous communities are woefully underrepresented in Virginia’s state database. This has resulted in important resources being overlooked or worse yet, irretrievably lost, and has meant these communities are rarely included as part of larger historic district conversations.
Farmland lost is farmland lost forever. Budget amendment 97 #2h (Gooditis) would provide an additional $2 million to the Farmland Preservation Fund grant program (current funding is only $250,000), providing much-needed matching funds and encouraging other localities to adopt Purchase of Development Rights programs of their own.
Good news! On Tuesday, January 26, Senator Stuart’s attempt at a floor substitute for SB 1199 was defeated. This allowed the bill that came out of full committee to proceed to a floor vote. On Wednesday, January 27, SB 1199 was read a third time and passed the Senate on a 25-14 vote. You can see the full vote count here: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?211+vot+SV0144SB1199+SB1199
The bill’s house companion, HB 1760 (Webert / Gooditis), passed the house 100-0, putting the legislation on the path to final passage (barring any unforeseen mischief).
A troubling development occurred Friday afternoon on the Senate floor. Our priority land conservation legislation (SB 1199 Petersen) was derailed by the introduction of an unfriendly substitute from Senator Stuart. If accepted, this change would entirely defeat the purpose of the bill. The Senate will consider the substitute during Monday’s floor session. Please ask your state senator to reject the proposed substitute and support the original legislation as passed by the full committee.
Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. SB 1199 preserves the integrity of all existing conservation easements, ensuring that disputes over terms are decided in favor of the conservation purpose of the easement, reflecting the intent of the original easement donor.
Ask your state senator to stop this substitute and support SB 1199. Take action ASAP!
Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. Private landowners work with state and federal agencies, along with nonprofit land trusts, on easement terms that protect the public values laid out in the Virginia Conservation Easement Act and the Open-Space Land Act.
These easements are legally binding agreements that stay with the land in perpetuity, ensuring that their natural and cultural resources are protected even if the property is sold. Although rare, there have been several recent legal cases in which new landowners dispute the land uses that are and are not permitted under the conservation easement.
A 2016 Virginia Supreme Court ruling made clear that legislation is needed to clarify how courts should handle these disputes. The introduced bills SB 1199 (Petersen) and HB 1760 (Webert/Gooditis) would direct the courts to interpret the easement terms based on the original intent of the conservation easement donation and their protection of public benefits.