Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"It's regrettable that Perry cast aside two years' hard work and the will of the people with a single stroke of his veto pen."


Woolley: Perry's veto endangers Texans' property rights

June 20, 2007

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Gov. Rick Perry's veto of House Bill 2006, eminent domain legislation, does a grave injustice to every private property owner in Texas. The governor's statement that the bill would slow down and shut down needed construction projects at the expense of taxpayers was disingenuous.

HB 2006 sought not to forestall the march of progress but to protect the rights of private property owners from being trampled by predatory entities seeking to build roads or other public-use projects without fairly compensating them.

The genesis of HB 2006 was the United States Supreme Court's unconscionable ruling in a lawsuit challenging eminent domain abuse in New London, Conn.

In Kelo v. City of New London, the court upheld a private development corporation's right to exercise the power of eminent domain by taking an entire neighborhood for private development.

In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said, "The specter of condemnation [now] hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."

For many years, the courts have been chipping away at private property rights. HB 2006 would have restored many of those rights, providing important protections for private property owners faced with the threat of having their land taken through the power of eminent domain.

The bill narrowed the definition of "public use" to ensure that a taking of private property is only for traditional public uses — not for building a condo project or a shopping mall, as was the case in New London.

The measure required a condemning entity to make a bona fide offer to a property owner and required good-faith dealings, and fair compensation and treatment of property owners in eminent domain negotiations.

HB 2006 made it mandatory for a governmental entity to take a public vote authorizing the exercise of the power of eminent domain, allowing for public scrutiny.

Contrary to the governor's declaration, it would not have provided a financial windfall for condemnation lawyers at taxpayers' expense. Indeed, the protections contained in the bill would preclude the necessity of lawyers because landowners would be treated fairly from the outset, allowing for a fair, negotiated price for land at no known cost, according to the comptroller of public accounts, the attorney general and the Legislative Budget Board.

As the citizens of New London found out, when the government or private entities representing it are allowed to brandish the far-reaching power of eminent domain — and can justify taking private property for the vague purpose of "economic development" — all private property owners are in trouble.

An overwhelming majority of members of the Texas House and Senate agreed with the bill's merits. It's regrettable that Perry cast aside two years' hard work and the will of the people with a single stroke of his veto pen.

Woolley served as co-chairwoman of the 2005 Joint Interim Committee on the Power of Eminent Domain.

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