Monday, July 25, 2005

"A Senate committee is scheduled to take up eminent domain bills Wednesday."

Limits on eminent domain?

Mon, Jul. 25, 2005
By O.K. Carter, Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Copyright 2005

Unless some attitude changes take place in the Legislature, there may be very few projects like Arlington's involvement in the Dallas Cowboys stadium project in the future.

State lawmakers have been unusually strident in their reaction to last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding eminent domain powers. At this juncture, more than half the states -- Texas included -- have various measures in the works that would limit cities' ability to condemn private property for development.

And, yes, the high court did specifically say that it was certainly OK if states choose to limit the parameters of eminent domain.

In Texas and California, voters might be asked to weigh in on state constitutional amendments to that effect, although there's a snag in Texas: Until lawmakers get through the public education funding dilemma, there's very little chance that anything else will get done.

That was demonstrated this month when Rick Perry added the eminent domain issue to the list of matters that the Legislature could consider during the special session that wrapped up Wednesday.

To that end, the Senate approved a bill to limit governments' ability to take private property to spur economic development. And the House approved putting a proposed constitutional amendment before voters.

But all that basically went away when the session ended. The new special session called Thursday -- as the saying goes -- is a whole new ball game. It could well be that lawmakers become so weary of hanging out in Austin and wrestling with the education formula that they'll skip out on other issues, including eminent domain. By the time the next regular legislative get-together takes place two years hence, eminent domain may well slip way back on the priority list.

Or maybe not. An Associated Press article just Friday reported that the House Land and Resource Management Committee has approved a constitutional amendment sponsored by state Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, that would severely limit eminent domain seizures like those approved by the Supreme Court. A Senate committee is scheduled to take up eminent domain bills Wednesday.

But when push comes to shove, what's all that mean to Arlington? Or, for that matter, to Texas?

Answer: Not much for Arlington. The stadium is basically a voter-approved done deal.

Further, when it comes to special sessions, the governor strictly establishes which legislative topics can be considered. And this time around, he's been smart enough to limit that list to one item -- public education.

He could, of course, add to the list if the funding issue gets worked out, since his major rival, Republican Comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn, is making an issue out of the topic.

And here's another eminent domain concern for future consideration: If Arlington is selected as the site for President Bush's presidential library, it'll need at least 40 or 50 acres, most assuredly in the vicinity of the existing Entertainment District.

If property were taken under eminent domain, would it count as a public taking for a private development? As part of a university system? A city or national park? A quasi-commercial endeavor? A nonprofit?

And yes, I know -- we're sort of counting our golden eggs before the goose shows up. But just remember that you read it here first.

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