Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eminent domain still in Rick Perry's crosshairs

Governor owes it to play fair with Texas property owners


Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2009

Don’t look now, but the gubernatorial matchup expected between Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010 just heated up.

In the cross hairs: The complicated issue of eminent domain.

Our caveat: Look beyond all rhetoric, consider all legislative bills proposed about eminent domain and remember that eminent domain is about more than just the recently redubbed Trans-Texas Corridor.

State officials tell us that 97 percent of land in Texas is privately owned, which means this issue resonates with many. If you have a mere backyard, it ought to resonate.

You can be forgiven for wondering if Perry did a remarkable political conversion the past few days, given his announcement last week that he was fully backing reform of eminent domain laws, despite vetoing legislation providing just that in 2007.

It was legislation, we might add, that won huge bipartisan support from our state lawmakers.

Now Perry says it’s time for a constitutional amendment to ensure the rights of property owners against abuses of eminent domain. The amendment, as proposed by state Sen. Robert Duncan, would prevent private property from being taken for economic and private development.

Perry also backs reforms in another bill authored by Duncan and Rep. Rob Orr.

We salute Perry for his current stand on the issue. But we ask now that Duncan, Orr and the governor go further and consider greater protection of property rights in the eminent domain bill authored by yet another Republican, state Rep. Beverly Woolley, of Houston.

Her bill, despite overwhelming approval in the House and Senate, was killed by Perry at the end of the last session.

Some of Perry’s past supporters — including the Texas Farm Bureau — consider elements of Woolley’s recently refiled bill vital, in that it ensures property owners are fairly compensated for damage to their land when access to remaining property is significantly diminished.

It’s an important point, especially for those who follow conservative principles in property rights. If a piece of your land is taken for, say, a road or electric grid or gas line, you should be paid not only for the land you’ve lost but any drop in value of the land you still retain, especially if ready access to that property and to nearby roads and highways is diminished.

Most lawmakers, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, already subscribe to this principle. Sen. Hutchison has signaled she does as well. It remains now only for the governor to jump on the bandwagon and seal the deal, neatly resolving the matter, even as major, land-gobbling projects loom in our future.

© 2009 Waco Tribine-Herald: www.wacotrib.com

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