Thursday, September 01, 2005

"Some are pleased with the measure but wanted a constitutional amendment instead of a law to avoid any loopholes."

Governor signs law limiting power to seize property

August 31, 2005

By Abe Levy, Associated Press Writer

SAN ANTONIO --In a move designed to strengthen private property rights, Gov. Rick Perry signed into law Wednesday a bill that limits state and local governments from seizing land for economic development.

Perry added the eminent domain issue to the agenda of the two summer special sessions on school finance. It was approved by the House and Senate and sent to the governor for his consideration in August.

"Today we are protecting Texans' dreams and upholding the strong tradition of private property rights," Perry said before a small gathering of reporters and employees at Columbia Industries in San Antonio.

Joining Perry at the signing were House Reps. Frank J. Corte Jr. and Joe Straus, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and Columbia Industries chairman Ron Herrmann.

"One thing Texans understand is government shouldn't take away their private property," Corte said.

Texas is one of at least 31 states to review eminent domain laws this summer since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that backed governments' power to take private land for economic development as a way to increase tax revenue. It's the second state to enact a law seeking to limit government power of eminent domain, according to the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised the law, which is similar to one he's proposed at the federal level. His bill would prohibit private property seizures for economic development if federal funds were used.

"Momentum continues to grow in Congress to pass legislation to protect homes, small businesses, and other private property against unreasonable government use of the power of eminent domain," Cornyn said in a prepared statement.

The Constitution allows governments to force the sale of private property in exchange for just compensation when a public use is determined.

Such powers typically have been used to build public infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, generally considered vital to a community's growth. However, court rulings over the years have widened the scope to include revitalization of deteriorated neighborhoods.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that New London, Conn., could take homes for a private development project. But the ruling also allowed states to ban that practice.

While Perry cited bipartisan support in passing the law, it is not without critics. Some are pleased with the measure but wanted a constitutional amendment instead of a law to avoid any loopholes.

Sports stadiums, such as the planned Dallas Cowboy stadium in Arlington, would be permitted under the new law despite homeowner objections that they are being displaced for economic benefit, not public use.

Perry said such large-scale stadiums benefit the overall public. He added that public input in decision-making is required before such structures can be built.

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