Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Texas eminent domain amendment “only gets us halfway”

Compensation issue still dogs needed reform of eminent domain law


Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2009

The Texas Farm Bureau on Monday endorsed U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor for what the Waco-based organization says is a host of good reasons, the foremost involving property rights, specifically the ever-thorny issue of eminent domain.

Voters might well have assumed this issue had been put to bed — or will be once they vote on a constitutional amendment next month prohibiting government officials from condemning property and then allotting it to private developers. But Gene Hall, public information officer of the Texas Farm Bureau, says the amendment “only gets us halfway” to where Texas property owners really want to be.

Missed opportunity

Among other things, the Texas Farm Bureau wants the state to approve guarantees establishing fair compensation for land taken for other projects, including compensation for any and all access to public roads and highways that might be eliminated or constrained through eminent domain.

We had high hopes the Legislature might address this in more comprehensive fashion last spring, but other matters intruded, and now the issue threatens to overshadow the GOP gubernatorial slugfest between Hutchison and Gov. Rick Perry when other matters rate our attention.

Yes, the Texas Farm Bureau, which looks out for the interests of farmers and ranchers, outlined several reasons for its endorsement at the Waco ranch of Claude and Becky Lindsey, including Hutchison’s stand against taxes and health care reform — the latter one reason Hutchison says she has yet to resign the Senate for this campaign. Yet Perry’s record has been equally strong on those fronts.

However, the governor’s strong advocacy of the Trans-Texas Corridor earlier this decade has only intensified fears about the use and possible abuse of eminent domain in making the ambitious highway system a reality. This has since become an issue that critics allege highlights Perry’s opposition to eminent domain reforms or, at the very least, his flagging support for such measures.

Perry backers dismiss this, noting he strongly advocates the constitutional amendment. But the Texas Farm Bureau hasn’t forgotten his veto of reforms in 2007, no doubt prompting the farm bureau board’s unanimous decision to jilt its former ally.

The fact this issue could dominate the GOP primary election is, again, a testament to the failure of state lawmakers to fully debate this complicated issue just a few months ago. Now we face the reality of heading to the polls in November to vote on an issue that we believe has yet to be truly resolved. Maybe after it further divides the Texas Republican Party, we’ll be ready to forge a reasonable resolution of the matter.

© 2009 Waco Tribune-Herald: www.kxan.com

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