Saturday, July 02, 2005

Real Protection for Property Owners?

Protection for property owners

By The Huntsville Item
Copyright 2005

Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) joined fellow lawmaker Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) on Thursday in filing House Joint Resolution 19, which is a proposed amendment to the State Constitution intended to limit a governmental entity's power of eminent domain.

The issue must be added to the current special session by Gov. Rick Perry, and then be passed by the House and Senate before being placed on a statewide ballot.

Kolkhorst also signed a letter urging Perry to add the issue to the current special session's agenda. Unlike a regular session, the agenda for a special session is left up to the sole discretion of the governor.

If approved by Texas voters, the amendment would prevent local governments from using the power of eminent domain to condemn private property for economic development projects. The measure is in response to last week's Supreme Court ruling.

"Like many others, I was personally shocked at the Supreme Court decision," Kolkhorst said. "The power of eminent domain was never intended to be used for purely financial gain or increased property values. Land ownership is a sacred thing, especially in Texas. This ruling overturned 800 years of common law and common sense. It reminds me of before the Magna Carta, when the local lords decided what you could and could not do with the King's property and land."

The Supreme Court last week ruled in the case Kelo v. The City of New London, Conn., allowing the city to condemn a neighborhood of private homes in order to make way for a planned research facility and upscale residences and retail stores. The decision affirms that local governments can force property owners to sell to make way for private economic development when government officials decide it would benefit the public, even if the property is not blighted, and the new project's success is not guaranteed.

Already, based on the court ruling, it is reported that officials in the beachfront town of Freeport, south of Houston, plans to move aggressively to condemn property owned by two seafood companies to clear the way for an $8 million private marina.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court left the issue up to individual states to address the issue, which has prompted an abundance of negative reactions and concerns.

"We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in Thursday's decision in Kelo v. City of New London.

State and federal governments already have eminent domain powers, and political subdivisions, such as city or county governments, still could exercise their eminent domain powers so long as economic development was not the primary reason.

"This resolution is a good start, but I hope public support will push it even further in terms of clarification," Kolkhorst said. "We need to ensure that the federal government, the state, or any local governmental entity can't still simply label something an economic development project and then take someone's land. If it's wrong for a city or county to do this, we should be clear that it's also wrong for state or federal government entities as well."

In February, Kolkhorst filed similar legislation in order to curtail the authority of the planned Trans-Texas Corridor. That bill, HB 1579, would have prohibited land from being taken out of the private sector and then developed and sold to a single franchising partner with TxDOT along the roadway. The bill gained statewide attention, and the bipartisan support of many legislators, but ultimately did not pass during regular session.

"People should own property without living in fear that the government can take it and turn it over to private developers in the name of higher property values," Kolkhorst said. "Hopefully, the resolution will slam the door on this land-grabbing concept in Texas."

Copyright © 2005 The Huntsville Item

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