Amendment added by Rep. Kolkhorst prohibits TxDOT from using eminent domain for highway "ancillary facilities."
AUSTIN -- Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) praised a measure to restrict government's power of eminent domain, which won legislative approval and is now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Perry.
The House version of the Senate bill, joint authored by Kolkhorst with Rep. Beverly Wooley (R-Houston) and Rep. Frank Corte (R-San Antonio), included an amendment by Kolkhorst which added additional limits to state government's power of eminent domain, including tighter restrictions over state transportation projects in relation to ancillary facilities.
The legislation was passed in order to bar government from seizing land strictly for commercial purposes. Perry, who added the eminent domain issue to the agenda of the special session on school finance, has the power to sign or veto legislation, or to allow it to become law without his signature.
"The passage of the eminent domain bill is victory for all property owners and Texans who believe in private property rights," said Kolkhorst. "As disappointed as I am about the stalemate over school finance and the lowering of property taxes, this bill carries equal weight to Texans who are concerned about the sanctity of the landowner.
"I've fought to lower property taxes for the same reason I've fought protect Texans from eminent domain abuses. All of our freedoms flow from our ability to own property."
In June, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Kelo v. The City of New London,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.
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.
Texas lawmakers worked quickly last week to advance a bill to restrict local governments from seizing private land for the promotion of economic development.
The original Senate bill banned governmental entities from using eminent domain to enable a private party to profit. Last week, the House passed an amended version of the bill on a 140-1 vote.
The House measure still allows eminent domain for more conventional uses, such as acquiring land for flood control, railroads, ports, airports and public roads.
The House version of the bill does not specifically address the Trans-Texas Corridor, but an amendment added by Kolkhorst prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation from using eminent domain to acquire land for highway "ancillary facilities," such as restaurants, hotels or similar commercial facilities, which have been discussed as part of the planned Trans-Texas Corridor.
"The goal of the amendment was to say you can't use the power of eminent domain to take land out of the hands of the private land owner in order to profit the government or a third party using the government's power," Kolkhorst said.
"The highway department can still negotiate with landowners to buy land for an ancillary facility if they choose, but this bill prohibits the use of eminent domain to simply grab it."
Ancillary facilities is a function that has traditionally been left to free enterprise, she said, like the private development of businesses lining today's current Texas interstates.
The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor includes controversial plans to build restaurants, hotels and convenience stores along statewide toll roads linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
David Stall, founder of a citizen's group known as CorridorWatch.org, which opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor, praised the bill and Kolkhorst's amendment.
"Sen. Kyle Janek filed SB7 and a handful of representatives did their best to make the good bill even better, especially Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who added an amendment restricting the Transportation Commission from using eminent domain to acquire property for revenue generating ancillary facilities," Stall wrote in a prepared statement to its members.