Property owners get ‘consolation prize’ on eminent domain reform

The passage of House Joint Resolution 14 by State Rep. Frank Corte, Jr. (R- San Antonio) in the closing hours of the 81st Texas Legislature accomplished some of the eminent domain reform sought by Texas Farm Bureau, but does not go nearly far enough, the organization’s president said.

“The constitutional amendment authorized by HJR 14 is very welcome and if passed by voters will provide protections from the abuses opened up by the Kelo case,” said TFB President Kenneth Dierschke. “But the job of reforming Texas’ terrible eminent domain law is not even half done.”

Senate Bill 18 was one of dozens of bills that did not come up for a vote due to the controversy over the Voter ID bill. Dierschke said SB 18 was the ultimate fix for unfair eminent domain treatment of property owners that is rampant across the state.

Among the issues addressed in SB 18 was a provision requiring all condemning entities to provide property owners with improved notice and disclosure before proceedings begin. It also provided for relocation assistance for displaced property owners. It would have enacted a previously approved constitutional amendment that allows owners to buy back their property in 10 years if not used for a public purpose. SB 18 called for an accounting of all entities in Texas which have eminent domain authority. This is a number that no one seems to know.

“We have to guard against the possibility that some may declare the job done on eminent domain reform,” Dierschke said. “If there is a special session, we hope Governor Perry will add it to the call. If there is not, this has to be a top priority for the next regular session.”

Dierschke said that Texas property owners are “deeply disappointed” by the Legislature’s failure to get eminent domain reform enacted.

SB 18 sponsor Senator Craig Estes stated, "I am profoundly disappointed that this important legislation providing meaningful eminent domain reform to protect private property did not get an opportunity for a fair and full debate in the Texas House. I remain committed to the issue of eminent domain reform.”

An exchange on the House floor late Sunday evening between Representative Harvey Hilderbran and HJR 14 Sponsor Frank Corte seemed to indicate that the provisions of SB 18 are still needed to fully implement eminent domain reform.

“I really believe we need a strong statute, like Senate Bill 18,” Corte said on the floor.

“The passage of HJR 14, if approved by the voters, makes the situation better. It’s a nice consolation prize,” Dierschke said. “But, even with that improvement, we’re left with what we had before the session began - one of the worst eminent domain laws in America.”

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