Friday, December 01, 2006

The Texas Farm Bureau is proposing a constitutional amendment on eminent domain

Texas Farm Bureau wants to overhaul laws on eminent domain

Dec. 01, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

ARLINGTON - Saying it's still too easy for Texans to lose their land, the Texas Farm Bureau wants to overhaul state laws on how governmental bodies can seize private property.

Under a proposed bill, not as many entities would have the power to take land and homes from residents.

Also, if land were to be seized for pipeline or utility lines, residents would receive ongoing royalty payments in addition to the property's fair market value. No matter what the land would be used for, residents would be paid for their attorneys' and appraisal fees and given enough time to move.

The issue is to be discussed at the group's 73rd annual convention starting Saturday in Arlington. On Monday, the final day, the group is expected to adopt a policy that will be part of a bill submitted during the state legislative session in January.

"This is an important issue because we should have the opportunity to keep and develop our land as we see fit," Kenneth Dierschke, president of the 385,000-member organization, said Friday. "In some cases eminent domain is necessary, but when they take land, people need to be treated fairly."

Although the organization opposes the Trans-Texas Corridor - Gov. Rick Perry's proposed toll road network across the state - farmers and ranchers generally are more tolerant of traditional eminent domain uses, such as for roads, Dierschke said.

The Texas Farm Bureau also is proposing a constitutional amendment based on a bill passed during last year's special legislative session. The new law, among other things, prevents governmental entities from seizing private property for economic development projects.

Passing the state law and getting it into the constitution would guard against legal challenges.

A state constitutional amendment has to be approved by two-thirds in the legislative chambers, and the governor does not have to sign it. Then it goes straight to the voters, who get their say in a statewide election.

The Farm Bureau's eminent domain bill was filed during the 2005 special session in Texas two months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governments can take land for private development to generate tax money, prompting worries that local entities would grab homes and turn the property over to developers.

But the Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., ruling also allowed states to ban that practice.

While Texas law was strengthened after the bill was passed in 2005, more needs to be done, Dierschke said. That's why the group is proposing the constitutional amendment and another eminent domain bill, he said.

"Our people in Austin will be working diligently to get it passed," he said.

© 2006 The Associated Press: