"In the rush to put statutory limits on public takings, lawmakers may have left just enough legal vagueness to invite a court challenge."
San Antonio Express-News
When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its controversial ruling expanding the traditional understanding of eminent domain this summer, it offered a legislative remedy.
"Nothing in our opinion," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority in Kelo v. City of New London, "precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power."
The Legislature's two special sessions have been abysmal failures in most respects. But with regard to securing private property rights against abusive interpretations of eminent domain, lawmakers scored a rare success.
By overwhelming margins, the House and Senate approved a measure limiting the exercise of eminent domain in cases of economic development and where it would confer a benefit on a private entity.
The bill, authored by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, also sets up an interim committee to continue studying the eminent domain issue and make recommendations to the 80th Legislature in 2007. That's important, because in the rush to put statutory limits on public takings, lawmakers may have left just enough legal vagueness to invite a court challenge.
Ultimately, the Legislature will probably need to present a constitutional amendment on eminent domain to Texas voters, as Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, has advocated.
In the meantime, the Janek bill represents a consolation prize for a summer's worth of depressing politics in Austin.
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