House Committee passes eminent domain

Eminent Domain legislation inches toward reform, but still falls short

AUSTIN, March 22, 2011—Property rights activists and members of the Property Rights Coalition of Texas are commending members of the House Land and Resource Management Committee for helping to protect property rights of Texans today. Committee members voted unanimously to pass an amended version of SB 18, which includes provisions to help establish due process, ensure landowners are adequately compensated for their property, and makes private interests and condemning entities more accountable to landowners.

“On behalf of the Property Rights Coalition of Texas, I would like to thank Chairman Oliveira and Vice Chair Kleinschmidt for their leadership on this bill and all members of the committee for voting to adopt the Kleinschmidt/ Oliveira amendments,” said Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and co-founder of PRCT.

While PRCT is pleased that the Land and Resources made some improvements to the bill, coalition members acknowledge that to there are still significant changes that must be made to the bill as it heads to the House floor for debate. PRCT is calling on lawmakers to include strong language that defines critical terms, which will help enforce and strengthen landowner protections in the bill. They are pushing lawmakers to adopt the language “necessary public use” in the bill, which will protect  landowners from future eminent domain abuses and profit-driven land grabs for economic development purposes.

”We’re glad to see the Committee made some positive changes to SB 18 on the remedy side, but to truly protect property rights, the bill needs to say any taking must be NECESSARY for that public use,” says Terri Hall, Founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and co-founder of the PRCT.

Cubria echoed that sentiment: “The easiest, simplest thing to do to protect property owners from unfair land grabs would be to add the word necessary to the definition of public use. Without the strict definition for ‘necessary public use,’ private corporations can condemn a landowner’s property, build a private toll road and claim that they did so in the name of public use. After all, the Trans-Texas Corridor was packaged as a ‘Community Development Association.’”

“We are thankful for the genuine concern expressed by House Land and Resource Management Committee members over the lack of property rights protections embedded in SB 18, but it is truly disappointing that so many elected officials believe they can hoodwink their constituents by empty rhetoric on property rights,” said Marc Scribner, land-use and transportation policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C. and PRCT member. “Legislators still have the opportunity to do the right thing, which is to reign in the government’s power to condemn private property for dubious reasons. Hopefully, they will heed the wishes of the public and support amendments that offer meaningful property rights protections. Otherwise, they will be turning a blind eye to the founding principles of this country: individual liberty and limited government.”