Friday, April 03, 2009

Clock ticks towards another eminent domain fiasco in Texas

Clock ticking on eminent domain reform


Texas Farm Bureau
Copyright 2009

As the Texas Legislature passes the halfway point of the 81st session, the critical element facing eminent domain reform is time, according to Regan Beck, associate legislative director with the Texas Farm Bureau.

“The clock’s winding down. The pressure is on to get a bill out as quickly as possible so the legislature has time to override a possible veto by Governor Perry,” Beck said.

Last session, Gov. Rick Perry raised the ire of groups supporting eminent domain reform when he vetoed HB 2006 which was overwhelmingly passed by both the House and Senate. HB 2006 would have given Texas one of the strongest “takings” laws in terms of private property rights and proper compensation.

The House Land and Resource Management Committee heard three joint resolutions and eight bills which address eminent domain reform on March 25. The Senate State Affairs Committee also heard two bills on March 30. Texas Farm Bureau State Director Richard Cortese testified on behalf of the state’s largest farm organization at both hearings.

“Texas Farm Bureau believes that the private ownership of property is one of the cornerstones of our nation’s freedoms,” Cortese testified. “It is what helped build our nation and our state. The changes we seek are needed to strengthen this basic right and to protect the rights of property owners.”

Texas Farm Bureau supports HB 1483 by Rep. Jim Pitts and SB 18 by Sen. Craig Estes. Although other bills address critical aspects of eminent domain reform, HB 1483 and SB 18 are comprehensive in scope and address what the organization considers the three pillars of eminent domain reform: a good faith offer by the taking entity; compensation, including diminished access; and a clear definition of public use.

According to TFB Legislative Director Steve Pringle, testimony surfaced in the House Land and Resource Management Committee that shows the abuse of eminent domain power is much more than a rural problem. It’s an issue that affects the private property rights of all Texans, he said.

“There have been significant problems with oil and gas issues (pipelines) in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area,” Pringle said. “The attorney for the city of Arlington was on the witness stand for what seemed like an eternity. The poster child for abuse in that area is and will be the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium. There was significant scrutiny about policies and procedures surrounding leases or other arrangements with entities involving economic development as opposed to a ‘public use.’”

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