Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Janek: "It's clearly better than the law we have."

Eminent domain bill approved

Lisa Sandberg
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

Responding to a wave of anger over a recent U.S. Supreme Court private property decision, the Texas Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill limiting the government's ability in Texas to seize land for purely economic development.

"We made the language tougher," said a jubilant Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who authored Senate Bill 7. "It's clearly better than the law we have."

Legislators from both houses, along with Gov. Rick Perry, have vowed to limit the effects of a June Supreme Court ruling stipulating that the city of New London, Conn., was within its rights to seize property from private individuals and give it to other private individuals — as long as the city could show it was in the public interest. Perry on Tuesday called the issue of protecting property rights "a very important one to Texans" and has said before that he hoped lawmakers would send him legislation to sign.

The two chambers did pass different versions of an eminent domain legislation during the first special session, but that session concluded before a final bill could be hashed out.

Eminent domain laws have traditionally allowed for government condemnation for the building of highways, ports and other public infrastructure, not because the property would generate more tax revenue if developed for another purpose.

Janek's bill, which passed the Senate 25-4 just after Perry allowed it to be considered during this year's second special session, would bar governmental entities from taking land for strictly economic development purposes.

Similar legislation is pending in more than a dozen states.

Alabama has already passed a law restricting the use of eminent domain, according to the Property Rights Organization of Texas.

Among the bill's detractors was Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who argued that the bill would actually weaken eminent domain laws in Texas; virtually all a governmental entity had to do, he said, was prove that property to be seized would be turned into public infrastructure.

"What we've done is make it easier for the government to come and condemn property," Shapleigh said.

Janek's bill now is headed to the House.

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