Saturday, April 22, 2006

"We have been extremely liberal of our grants of eminent domain authority in this state."

Senate to clarify eminent domain

April 22, 2006

By Eric Finley, Ballot Box
The San Angelo Standard-Times
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN - Texas property owners worried about eminent domain should know this - not even the state knows how many entities have been granted land-taking power by the Texas Legislature.

The State Affairs Committee in the Texas Senate, chaired by Sen. Robert Duncan, is studying eminent domain policies in the state. By the end of the year, the committee will recommend what the state should do about it beyond the legislation enacted in 2005 that limits the taking of land for economic development.

Duncan, R-Lubbock, said the State Affairs Committee asked the Legislative Council for the number of entities the state has granted eminent domain authority. It was more than the council could count, Duncan said.

''To me, that's an indication that we have been extremely liberal of our grants of eminent domain authority in this state,'' Duncan said this week following a State Affairs meeting on the topic.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing cities to use their power of eminent domain to take land for economic development in 2005 led Texas lawmakers to restrict that power.

Besides determining which state, regional or local entities have eminent domain power, the State Affairs committee is charged with monitoring the implementation of the legislation passed in 2005 and make any recommendations as to the use of eminent domain for economic development.

The committee is to recommend what constitutes adequate compensation for property taken. It also is asked to recommend whether a constitutional amendment is needed.

Duncan says he's not sure whether he would support an amendment, because he typically prefers not to change the state's constitution, nor does he like taking control out of the hands of lawmakers.

He said amendments could help clarify that the entities must prove that land taken is for the public good. An amendment also could help limit the way legislators hand out eminent domain authority, instead of simply granting the power to entities that request it.

''That's basically what we've been doing over the years,'' Duncan said. ''That's wrong, and we need to correct it.''

Copyright ©2006 - The San Angelo Standard-Times, an E.W. Scripps newspaper