This is a solid step forward in a long-fought battle to provide private property owners the protections they need from abusive use of eminent domain. We can all agree that roads must be built, pipelines must be laid and wastewater plants must be constructed.
What we can’t lose sight of is the fact that the rights of private property owners are guaranteed by both the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and must be considered at the front end of growth and not as an afterthought. SB 18 by Sen. Craig Estes and HB 279 by Rep. Charlie Geren are two good examples of eminent domain reform legislation that needs to be passed and signed into law.
By passing Proposition 11 in 2009, Texas voters told lawmakers that our state needs to do more to protect the rights of private property owners. For years, I've promoted measures that would level the playing field for landowners by requiring condemning entities to be more open in the negotiation process, creating a standard for estimating the true harm to landowners and ensuring acquisitions occur for a real and direct public purpose.
Key components of eminent domain reform are:
- Ensuring condemning entities negotiate with property owners in good faith and present a bona fide offer;
- Requiring entities utilizing eminent domain to provide landowners just compensation for injuries, including diminished access;
- Providing a buy-back provision so property owners may purchase condemned land if it is not used for the named public purpose within 10 years of the taking; and
- Clarifying, in statute, the definition of “public use” to ensure eminent domain authority is only exercised for the public good and not for economic development projects or enhancing tax revenues.