Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas SB 11 & eminent domain reform: "They're basically paying lip service to the property rights arguments."

Texas property owners unprotected


Chris Woodward
Copyright 2011

TexasA transportation policy analyst says a measure in Texas that is designed to provide real eminent domain reform may fail to do the job.

S.B. 18, which has already been approved by the Texas State Senate, prohibits a government agency or private entity from taking property through eminent domain "if the taking is not for a public use." The measure also requires that property owners receive a bona fide offer, along with a buy-back option if an intended project is not started within ten years.

But despite what it may say on paper, Marc Scribner, who tracks land-use policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), says the measure does little to protect property owners.

"They're basically paying lip service to the property rights arguments," he contends. "Now, they're saying you can only use this for public use. That's been well-established by the courts. You can't come out and say, 'We're taking this to give this to a private developer.' You've always had to couch in that language that this is in some way in the public purpose."

Scribner adds that the Senate has failed to amend the blight guidelines, including the determination of what classifies as blight.

"As it stands, they were left unamended by this law," he notes. "Governments can still condemn entire areas as blighted, even when you'll have properties within the area that aren't blighted."
The bill has been approved by the Texas Senate and is now headed for the state House.

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