Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Eminent Domain: "SB 18 represents a bait and switch on Texas property owners."

Rain Falls on Eminent Domain Parade


by Reeve Hamilton
The Texas Observer
Copyright 2009

Texas Republicans, who placed a high priority on passing eminent domain reform this session, celebrated yesterday’s passage of Senate Bill 18 by Sen. Craig Estes. The bill limits eminent domain takings for public use only, requires a bona fide offer before condemnation, and requires fair compensation for loss of direct access to any remaining property,as well as other provisions.

Gov. Rick Perry was moved to release a press release yesterday, saying, ““I am pleased the Senate today passed legislation that codifies much needed eminent domain protections for Texas property owners. By clearly defining these essential safeguards, we can shield landowners from abuses of eminent domain for generations to come.”

However, key experts remain unsatisfied and seem to think the essential safeguards haven’t been well defined at all.

Eminent domain has been a major issue since the famous Kelo v. City of New London case, which was decided by the US Supreme Court in 2005. The Institute for Justice litigated that case, and its Austin-based Texas Chapter has been a major force behind eminent domain reform this session.

Executive Director of the Texas chapter Matt Miller issued a statement striking a notably different tone from that of Estes and Perry. ““As it stands, SB 18 represents a bait and switch on Texas property owners,” he says. “This bill helps protect rural property owners but leaves urban and suburban property owners exposed to private development schemes.”

Chief among IJ’s complaints is that the definition of “public use”—the entire focus of the Kelo litigation—was stripped from the bill in committee, and however helpful the remaining collection of procedural safeguards are, the central problem of Kelo remains unaddressed.

Wesley Hottot, a staff attorney for IJ-TX, says, “People need to pay attention right now and demand passage of the real reform measures, otherwise we will once again have been denied the protection we were promised. This legislative session is starting to look like a repeat of 2005 and 2007 when genuine property rights protection was promised by Texas political leaders, but never delivered.”

And thus the eminent domain-inspired conservative love-fest came to an end…for now.

© 2009 Texas Observer: www.texasobserver.org

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